A Harvey man and an alleged accomplice have been arrested after authorities said they took over at least seven foreclosed homes, fraudulently rented them to unsuspecting tenants and made off with their money.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said Thursday it has arrested Kyron Hunter, 34, and Tamika Gotch, 37, both of whom say they are “sovereign citizens,” or part of a loosely organized fringe movement that believes the government has no legal jurisdiction over individuals.
Despite their beliefs, the group is known to use the legal system extensively, often in what officials say are scams and extortion schemes.
Hunter and his wife, Amoure Bey, would file affidavits of ownership for the homes in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna and then change the locks and prepare the houses for rental, according to the Sheriff’s Office. It said Hunter would use the alias Khara A. Bey on the affidavits.
Investigators say Hunter would then collect deposits, fees and one month’s rent from prospective tenants, even letting some live in the homes while paying rent for several months. When the renter or actual property owner became aware of the scam, the tenant would be evicted, and Hunter, who told them his name was Justin, would keep the money.
When one victim who had put down a $1,000 deposit complained about the condition of the home for which she was paying $950 per month, she was evicted, JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato said.
The case began in March, when the Sheriff’s Office began looking into a complaint from a 52-year-old woman who was renting a home on Terraza Del Sur in Harvey. She had found the property through an ad on Craigslist.
Investigators with JPSO’s Economic Crimes Division soon uncovered a similar incident at a tax sale property on Briarwood Drive in Marrero and found its Judicial Process Bureau also was investigating foreclosed properties on Snowbird Drive, Louise Street and Breckenridge Drive.
On Monday, JPSO conducted a sting operation, arranging to meet Hunter at another home on Snowbird Drive. An undercover officer gave Hunter $1,900 to rent the property before arresting him and Gotch, who drove Hunter to the house in a Cadillac Escalade.
Deputies said Gotch refused to identify herself or provide investigators with any information about her identity.
The Sheriff’s Office said a search of the Cadillac revealed evidence of the scheme involving properties that deputies were investigating, as well as others that investigators were not yet aware of. Authorities also found a loaded AK-47 rifle and a 12-gauge pump shotgun in the back seat, along with receipts, invoices and leads to storage units and bank accounts that deputies plan to investigate.
Hunter was booked on counts of theft by fraud and attempted theft by fraud. Gotch, of Lafayette, was booked on a count of resisting arrest by refusing to identify herself.
The investigation is ongoing, Fortunato said.
The case is not the first run-in a so-called sovereign citizen has had with the law in Harvey. Last year, a former shipyard worker was arrested by an anti-terror task force and accused of mail fraud and mailing threatening communications to his former employers, Westwego police and even a state district judge.
The man, Melvin Lewis II, was accused of placing liens on properties owned by people he said were using his name, which he considers his private property, without paying him. Shortly before he was arrested, Lewis sent a letter to 24th Judicial District Judge Stephen Grefer saying Grefer owed him $102.8 million for using his name in court without permission. That case is still pending in federal court.
In St. John the Baptist Parish, a group of sovereign citizens were arrested in the shooting and killing of two Sheriff’s Office deputies and the injury of two others in 2012. That case has yet to go to trial.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.