Sovereign citizen caught stealing utilities
(WMC TV) - A Shelby County judge issued an arrest warrant for a self-avowed "sovereign citizen" after investigators caught him stealing utilities from MLGW.
Monday, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Beasley signed the warrant for Devitoe Farmer, who's been squatting in a foreclosed home at 5181 Wax Wing Ln. in Raleigh.
Pictures leaked to The Action News 5 Investigators showed Memphis police and MLGW revenue protection investigators canvassing the home Saturday. The pictures also revealed the home's meter had been "hot-wired," even though the utility's investigators confirmed Monday that MLGW has shut off power at the home several times.
"The meters and the utilities into the house have been rigged in a way where utilities are going into the house," said Beasley. "I have issued a warrant for (Farmer's) arrest because he appears to be in violation of my probation order."
Earlier this month, Farmer was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail for theft of government property: a Fannie Mae-foreclosed home at 4171 Sevella Rd.
But two days after Farmer's sentencing, neighbors told The Action News 5 Investigators that Farmer and his family were back inside the Wax Wing house (owner: Fannie Mae), also confirmed to be a part of the Shelby County district attorney general's investigation.
"That's because Judge Beasley put him on probation," said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich April 24. "It was not what our prosecutors were asking for, but it is what Judge Beasley ordered."
Beasley ordered the suspension of Farmer's sentence in favor of probation, despite Farmer's pending state charges on aggravated burglary and driving without a license, as well as federal charges of stealing other foreclosed properties.
"No one, including the district attorney general's office, advised me of the other properties or allegations," Beasley said April 25. "If anyone had advised me, I would have never put him on probation.
"As a condition of my probation order, Farmer is no longer allowed to quit-claim properties that have been foreclosed. If he is occupying the property on Wax Wing illegally, he is in violation of my order, and I will issue a warrant for his arrest."
Concerned neighbors of the Wax Wing property, talking under condition of anonymity, said they are scared of Farmer. They said MLGW has shut off the utilities to the Wax Wing Ln. house before, but they said Farmer has fired up a gas generator in the middle of the night for power.
"Our revenue protection program is working with the district attorney general's office, assisting them with this investigation," said MLGW spokesperson Glen Thomas Monday.
Multiple neighbors said Farmer has threatened at least one of them. They're also worried about his potential impact on their property values.
The Action News 5 Investigators first exposed Farmer 24 months ago for fudging the deeds on six foreclosed properties in Raleigh, all owned by either HUD, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Farmer either rented out the properties as his own, or he moved family members into them (for that story, please click here).
Tom Leatherwood, Shelby County's register of deeds, said Farmer quit-claimed the deeds on each of the properties -- including the homes on Sevella Rd. and Wax Wing Ln. -- by coming into the office and signing paperwork that shifted the properties from himself to himself, clouding the properties' titles.
"If someone files fraudulent documents, that does create a cloud over someone's title and creates a real headache for the legitimate property owner," Leatherwood said.
Leatherwood also produced an affidavit of truth sworn by Farmer, declaring himself to be "...a natural, freeborn Sovereign, without subjects. I am neither subject to any entity anywhere, nor is any entity subject to me."
"Not subject to the laws of the federal government or state government," said Leatherwood.
Leatherwood said Tennessee law allows Farmer and other "sovereigns" to cloud the deeds to foreclosed properties because it forbids county registers and their staffs from requiring proof of identification or proof of property ownership.
"The law's designed that way to keep bureaucrats from holding up folks just hours before closing on a home, based on a feeling that 'something's just not right,'" Leatherwood said.
In 2011, Leatherwood successfully lobbied Tennessee state legislators to make the altering of property deeds or quit-claiming of property by people who do not own the property a crime. But lawmakers watered it down to a Class A misdemeanor, a penalty of just 11 months and 29 days in jail.
"I would have preferred it being a felony simply because (Weirich's prosecutors) said they would be more likely to prosecute," said Leatherwood.
No one answered the door at the Wax Wing property. According to federal records, Farmer's federal trial starts May 13.
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