After clouding the property titles of strangers and impeding the foreclosure efforts of banks, Jacob Franz Dyck could land behind bars over a missing pickup truck.
Polk County authorities have filed an arrest warrant for Dyck, whose location is unknown, on a third-degree felony charge of committing criminal acts through simulated use of the legal process.
Dyck, a 72-year-old felon, espouses the philosophies of "sovereign citizens," who have declared themselves free from government. Some maintain that banks don't have a right to foreclose, and they say homes, when placed into special trusts, fall under common law and cannot be taken or taxed.
Some homeowners say they have paid Dyck to set up such trusts but have lost their homes anyway. The St. Petersburg Times found property deeds containing Dyck's trusts in at least 21 of Florida's 67 counties, including all in the Tampa Bay area. Dyck has also filed "wild deeds" laying claim to other people's homes, apparently without their knowledge.
As the FBI and local investigators in at least two other counties examine Dyck's deeds, Polk seeks to arrest him in a more modest matter. The property in question: a 4-year-old Nissan pickup truck once belonging to a fellow sovereign citizen and placed into one of Dyck's trusts.
The dispute has already landed three of Dyck's associates, including a notary, in jail.
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It all began with a letter, sent to MidFlorida Credit Union on Aug. 18, 2009, by Gary D. Chenot, a Lakeland man with two outstanding car loans.
"It has recently been brought to my attention that there may have been fraud committed," Chenot wrote, demanding the original, "unaltered and wet ink signature" note within 10 days.
The bank tried to call him to find out more. Chenot sent another letter, labeling the calls "harassment."
Chenot wrote again, questioning the legality of the loan contracts and asking for a total ledger of accounting. The bank noticed that Chenot had not made car payments since July. "It was quite obvious," bank officials wrote in a case summary, "Chenot was playing some kind of game."
So the bank started the process of repossession. And Chenot's documents kept coming.
He sent a notarized letter telling the bank Dyck was now the trustee of the property they were seeking, and authorities say Dyck began sending letters to the bank about the car loan situation. Documents show that Chenot and his wife also put their house into a trust and named Dyck trustee.
One of Dyck's associates, Kim Clayton Perry, sent a notarized document to the bank from "Our One Supreme Court," saying that "a jury of 12 women and men sovereigns" had made a decision, apparently quashing legal action, and that the "grand jury" would later determine monetary compensation for "overpayment of automobile debt."
Polk authorities say documents filed by Dyck and Perry intended to simulate a legal process, which violates Florida law.
The bank finally repossessed one of the Chenot vehicles, a 2005 Ford Freestar. But the bank lawyer asked Polk authorities to file charges once it had been discovered that the pickup truck had been turned over to Dyck.
Before this case, Chenot, 52, had never been arrested in Florida. But since it began, he has been arrested three times on charges that include grand theft, resisting an officer and attempting to influence, intimidate or hinder law enforcement duties.
Chenot did not respond to messages from the Times.
In a nine-page "affidavit of truth" dated Feb. 18, 2011, he declared himself sovereign, saying he is not a United States citizen or even a person, as a person is described in the law.
Yet on July 18, 2011, he filed a 56-page document to the federal court, saying his rights had been violated and demanding, in the third-person, that "all public officials do what they promised to do, protect his inalienable rights under the Constitution, its Amendments, and Bill of Rights."
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As Chenot awaits trial in three open cases stemming from the credit union dispute, Perry and notary Khamma Inthavong have also been criminally charged.
Inthavong, 36, of St. Petersburg was charged with unlawful use of notary commission and the "simulated legal process" charge that also appears on Dyck's warrant.
Records show Inthavong placed her own property into Dyck's trust in 2008. And her notary stamp appears on deeds later filed by Dyck in Pinellas County.
Perry, 64, of Weeki Wachee was also charged under the "simulated legal process" statute. Perry's name appears on a deed with Dyck in 2007, putting Mary's Fish Camp in Hernando County into a trust.
Dyck has not yet been arrested.
He has not responded to Times letters sent to a Miami post office box, and his voice mailbox is full.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.