A California woman who allegedly moved into an unoccupied Lolo home earlier this month and claimed the digs as her own may have been influenced by websites promoting the extremist "sovereign citizens" movement.
Jackiya Dionea Ford, 37, allegedly moved into a Lolo home while it was for sale, then changed the locks and filed a fraudulent lawsuit against the home's builder and rightful owner, Bob Paffhausen.
Deputy Missoula County Attorney Dori Brownlow is prosecuting the case, and said numerous websites provide instructions on how to file such erroneous paperwork, which can clog up the court system if processed.
"There is lots of information online and I assume that's where it's all coming from as a central source," Brownlow said.
The filings include frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials, and in some cases the documents effectively transfer the property rights on paper, creating a sticky legal mess that is difficult to sort out.
"It's very difficult to unrecord a document once it's been recorded, so we try to catch these things when they appear on the verge of legality," said Debbe Merseal, Missoula's chief deputy clerk and recorder.
Merseal said Ford's filings were so unusual that she sent the paperwork to the legal eagles in the Missoula County Attorney's Office for review. She said the woman tried to have several certified deeds and patent documents re-recorded, but refused to give a reason for the request.
"This definitely was an unusual document," Merseal said. "She described it as a ‘patent sandwich.' I don't believe we've ever seen anything like this."
At that point, Ford still hadn't been accused of committing a crime, though she was known to officials with the sheriff's department.
The woman first came onto the radar of local law enforcement when she became disorderly in the Missoula County Attorney's Office and had to be removed. She filed "bogus" lawsuits against several sheriff's deputies, said Lt. Rich Maricelli, and demanded settlements be paid in gold and silver.
"It's been an absolute nightmare," Maricelli said.
Then Ford filed suit against Paffhausen, the builder, who told authorities that the woman showed up to view his house as a prospective buyer. After their initial meeting, Ford delivered paperwork claiming ownership of the house and all the land in a 20-mile radius around it. She offered to drop the lawsuit if Paffhausen paid her $900,000 in pure silver and gold.
On April 14, as the builder worked with Brownlow to remedy the situation, he received a call from NorthWestern Energy saying someone had reported a natural gas leak at the house. Paffhausen went to the house, where he found the locks and garage door codes had been changed and the windows covered up with paper.
Various notices were also posted on the doors saying no one should enter the house without consent of the "authority of our Lord and Savior Yahushua," who had given the house to Ford as a believer.
Looking through an opening in the kitchen window, Paffhausen could see various personal belongings, including a rifle case leaning against the living room wall. Paffhausen called authorities, and as sheriff's deputies were inspecting the home Ford came speeding down the street and pulled into the driveway.
Ford told the deputies that she was a "sovereign citizen of the republic of America" and therefore officials had no authority over her. She said she owned the whole mountainside and that they were on private property.
At the time of her arrest, she had been living in the house about two weeks.
Ford's alleged intimidation tactics are consistent with the Sovereign Citizen Movement, whose adherents use "paper terrorism" as a form of harassment.
Paper terrorism involves the use of fraudulent legal documents and filings, as well as the misuse of legitimate documents and filings, in order to intimidate, harass and coerce public officials, law enforcement officers and private citizens, according to an FBI news release warning of the practice.
The allegations against Ford smack of the recent case of Brent Arthur Wilson, 53, who faces felony charges in Lake County for his alleged attempts to steal a $300,000 house in foreclosure.
Wilson allegedly broke into the home, changed the locks and filed a flurry of bizarre paperwork with the Lake County Clerk and Recorder's Office - including documents listing the property's location as "third planet from the sun" and references to the "Creator, Yahweh."
Ford was arrested on April 14 and her belongings removed from the home. She made an initial appearance in Justice Court on April 19, and her bail was set at $50,000.
She remains jailed, and will appear for arraignment Thursday morning in Missoula District Court. A young child who was in the car at the time of Ford's arrest is now in the care of Child Protective Services.