CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - An obscure religious sect is accused of taking over dozens of homes in the Charlotte area. They're seizing foreclosed property with bogus property deeds.
Local courthouses say it's an epidemic of frivolous paperwork, people claiming the right to seize foreclosed property.
They're taking over houses with bogus deeds, forgeries and notary fraud. The perpetrators in many of these cases claim to belong to the Moorish Science Temple of America.
It's a group most people have never heard of.
But local law enforcement has been investigating them and have put together files on the Moorish Nation.
Who is this group and how are they getting away with fraud?
"The last sentence was do not call the local police."
That was the note a man we'll call Ed saw on the front door of his neighbor's house right after two men moved in last May.
It got him wondering who these two new neighbors were who had moved into this house that was in foreclosure in a Weddington subdivision.
"It basically said this house is under the possession of a foreign embassy. If you have any questions about anything going on here call the U.S. state department," Ed said.
He learned they weren't from the state department but with the Moorish Science Temple of America.
Kenneth Lewis and a second man Asaru Ali, authorities say had filed papers with the Register of Deeds in Union county claiming the house was now owned by the religious sect.
They had changed the locks and were living there.
"The audacity or the stupidity of somebody to think that you could gain possession of a half-million dollar home or more and nobody's gonna stop you. It's like you don't have all your marbles if you try to do something like that," he said.
But it is happening and in a big way.
"This table is just filled with things I've found over the last two years."
That's David Granberry, Mecklenburg county's Register of Deeds. He says he's discovered a flood of paperwork - more than 200 documents in the last year - filed by the Moorish Nation or people associated with the group.
They claim property they don't own, property in foreclosure or abandoned. There have been documents claiming mortgage debt has been canceled. And the most egregious cases, trying to ruin someone's reputation.
Granberry says he found a case in which a member of the Moorish Nation who had been arrested by the Highway Patrol filed a lien against the trooper claiming the officer owed the arrestee $2,500.
"It is frustrating," he said. "Some of the folks.. some people are victims of a bigger fraud. Some people are using this as their own fraud."
So who is this group? The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the sect as a rapidly growing black nationalist religious movement whose members consider themselves individually sovereign and independent of government authority.
But on its website the group says it doesn't subscribe to sovereign theory.
It is a group law enforcement is watching.
Says Union County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Ben Bailey: "It obviously is a matter of concern for us and obviously as situations where the law is broken we will prosecute," said Chief De
Registers of Deeds say they're hands are tied as long as the deeds meet certain requirements their offices must accept them.
They would like to see state law changed to make filing worthless documents a crime.
The two men who moved into the Weddington home are being prosecuted for breaking and entering and trespassing.
Authorities believe they produced the fraudulent deed to a locksmith and that's how they got the locks changed and got in.
The religious leader of the local Moorish Science Temple says his group isn't affiliated with any effort to seize vacant property.