- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. — From New Jersey to California, police, courthouse officials and real estate agents are being confronted with a baffling new problem: bogus legal documents filed by people claiming to follow an obscure religion called Moorish Science. Their motives range from financial gain to simply causing a nuisance.

No one is more exasperated by the phenomenon than the leaders of the century-old Moorish Science Temple of America, who say the growing number of “paperwork terrorists” has nothing to do with their faith or its teachings.

“It’s just distressing that some individuals would take something as pure and righteous as this organization and try to tarnish it,” said Christopher Bennett-Bey, grand sheik of the group’s temple in Charlotte, one of more than 30 located across the country.

It’s not clear why the flimflam artists are invoking the group. But one expert said divisions dating back to the death of the sect’s founder have resulted in small pockets of people who claim to be followers but have little understanding of the faith.

The bad filings include deeds, liens and other documents, often written in confusing pseudo-legal jargon and making outlandish claims about being exempt from U.S. law. In some cases, filers have actually moved into foreclosed houses and changed the locks. Other times, people seeking to slip their mortgages have used bogus documents to waste the time and money of their banks. Fake liens have also been maliciously filed to target enemies.

“The ideas are particularly attractive to people who are hurting economically, although let’s be candid: For some people it’s just pure greed,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

Law enforcement can pursue theft or fraud charges if a case warrants it, but states’ laws vary on whether filing sham paperwork is a crime in itself. Lawmakers in North Carolina failed to pass a law making bad filings a crime this year.

National numbers on the scheme aren’t available, but the area around the largest city in North Carolina has been a hot spot. In 2011 alone, more than 200 bogus legal documents have been filed with Mecklenburg County by people claiming to be followers of Moorish Science, with another few dozen filed in neighboring Union County.

As long as a legal document is properly formatted, county officials have to file it alongside valid paperwork, according to Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds David Granberry. The content, however, is often outlandish and includes strange punctuation and capitalization or lengthy digressions about the 14th Amendment, the Constitution or maritime law.

“If we can legally reject it for some reason, we’ll do that. But as soon as they figure out how to correct it, we’ll get a stream of these documents because word gets around,” he said.

Having a bogus lien or deed legally purged requires the county - or the subject of the lien - to go through a potentially lengthy process that often involves hiring lawyers. A document with a $50 filing fee can easily end up costing the county $2,000, Mr. Granberry said.

The tactics being used by the Moorish impostors originated with tax dodgers and white supremacist groups in the 1980s, experts said.

“These are people who engage in the most bizarre leaps of logic. They literally believe that if you lowercase the ‘u’ in the phrase United States, you will break the bonds of government tyranny and become a free man,” Mr. Potok said.

The occupation of foreclosed homes appears to be a new ploy, Mr. Potok said. Such cases have been recorded in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, California and elsewhere. They often end in the arrests of the squatters.

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