He considers himself a "sovereign citizen," above the laws of government and, apparently, the rules of grammar. He punctuates his name Jacob-Franz: Dyck.
He is a disgraced former dentist who went to prison for stealing silver and gold. He has sued the banks, a governor, the United States of America.
Yet Dyck's name appears on hundreds of real estate records throughout Florida, written into the deeds of homeowners desperate to try anything to avoid foreclosure — including paying him to put their properties in "pure trusts." Dyck says such trusts can't be taken or taxed because they fall under "common law," out of the reach of government.
One problem: That's not true.
Law enforcement has investigated him. The state is after him for nearly $13,000 in unpaid taxes. But no one has charged him with a crime for his real estate dealings.
For months, Dyck operated out of a Hernando County fish camp. The Tampa Bay area was his ground zero.
His trusts took ownership of middle-class homes in Riverview. He had a couple return to their foreclosed Tampa home and charged them rent. He talked the trustees of the Rev. Henry Lyons' 105-year-old African-American church in Tampa into signing over their sanctuary and land.
Dyck, 72, has relocated to Miami. His reach remains nationwide.
While some wonder whether his motivations are philosophical or criminal, Dyck leaves a more basic question in his wake:
Who is this guy?
• • •
An elderly widower sat in a Tennessee courtroom, robbed of his car and his coin collection by a man he considered a friend.
"He's a con man, I know now," James Hagemeyer testified. "But at that time, I believed every damn thing he said."
Dyck's life story, as Dyck tells it in a court deposition, begins with his birth in Ukraine, his post-World War II migration to the United States and his Kansas upbringing as a Mennonite.
Records show that he practiced dentistry in Tennessee and that the department of health said he breached the standard of care for a patient, practiced with a lapsed license and abandoned at least two different patients for whom he was performing dental work.
His license was revoked in 1995, the department said, after investigators observed him practicing dentistry and prescribing controlled substances on a suspended license, without informing patients that he didn't hold an active license. The department cited, among other violations, unprofessional, dishonorable or unethical conduct.
Dyck cited 1995 as the time he got involved with the sovereign citizen movement. By then, he had already befriended the Hagemeyers.
The relationship was born over shared antigovernment ideals and alternative medicine, said Beth Hagemeyer, daughter of the widower, who died in 2009. His wife, Agnes, had cancer. And Dyck said he had healing hands.
The couple treated Dyck as a son, Beth Hagemeyer said — put him on their checking account, allowed him to move in.
The Hagemeyers had spent years investing in gold and silver coins. After Agnes' death in 1998, James turned some sacks over to Dyck, to sell to a dealer and return with the profits, court documents say. He loaned Dyck his car.
He got nothing back.
James came home one day to find that Dyck, who had a key to his house, had broken through a false floor to take more coins.
The car was worth $6,000.
The coins, at least $31,000.
Dyck was arrested. He would get six years in prison.
Before trial, he insisted on representing himself, but refused to answer the questions necessary to waive his right to counsel. He said he was "not the corporate entity that you are trying to try."
The judge refused to let him defend himself, so Dyck went to trial with an attorney and erupted during jury selection:
"I object. I do not have a lawyer. I object to these proceedings. I do not consent to this. I do not assent to this. I do not acknowledge, I do not appear, and I do not understand."
• • •
No one knows how many "sovereign citizens'' live in the United States. Estimates run in the hundreds of thousands. At the heart of the 40-year-old movement is this theory: The true federal government was infiltrated and replaced with an illegitimate version that "tricked" Americans into becoming citizens by offering them such privileges as driver's licenses and Social Security, according to a report last year from the Anti-Defamation League.
The sovereign citizens declare themselves free of government. That freedom holds a variety of implications.
Some don't pay taxes. Or apply for building permits. They may set up their own home-based courts. They often file an avalanche of bogus and esoteric court documents, a practice known among critics as "paper terrorism."
Like Dyck, they may use punctuation — such as commas or colons — to separate their first and middle names from their last, "government-given" name, the Anti-Defamation report says. They even may resort to violence, as did a Clearwater father and son when they killed two Arkansas police officers.
The report also notes what it calls "one of the most troubling schemes" among sovereign citizens: telling desperate homeowners they can save their properties from foreclosure — for a fee.
The tactics vary from selling "Royal Hawaiian Treasury Bonds" that homeowners could use to pay off their mortgages to convincing homeowners that a "land patent" can protect their properties from creditors. None is successful.
But that doesn't stop them from trying. About five years ago, Dyck said, he got a phone call, according to a deposition he gave last year. A friend told him about Kim Perry, a fellow sovereign in Hernando County who was fighting the government over his operation of a small RV park called Mary's Fish Camp.
Dyck said he had a plan.
• • •
Mary's Fish Camp sits on Mud River, at the end of an unpaved road that darts into the woods off State Road 50 in Weeki Wachee.
Perry's case was complicated and drawn out, but one battle boiled down to how many recreational vehicles and cabins were allowed by county zoning rules.
He hired Brooksville lawyer Joe Mason to handle his case. Mason said he thought Perry had a good shot at convincing a judge that he had a right to more campers than the county allowed.
About a week before an important court hearing in 2007, Perry stopped by with someone new, Jacob Dyck. Then the day before the hearing, Mason got a hand-delivered letter from Perry.
He had been fired.
"I've always suspected it was at the insistence of Jacob Dyck," Mason said.
Dyck, meanwhile, moved in with Perry at the fish camp and got to work. He later said in a deposition that he put the camp property into a "pure trust," which he deemed immune from zoning laws and tax liability.
Dyck said pure trusts are ones controlled by "common law," not state or federal statutes. The Anti-Defamation League calls pure trusts an old scam that got a new life on the Internet, noting the IRS does not recognize the legitimacy of such trusts.
The two men filed dozens of oddly worded documents, some bearing red thumbprints. They issued a "cease and desist" to the Hernando sheriff and convened a "people's court,'' consisting primarily of Mary's Fish Camp visitors and residents.
The court "indicted" an actual circuit judge and decided public officials lacked jurisdiction over Perry. Their rulings were submitted to the Hernando County court, though some of these citizen "judges" now seem bewildered.
"What?" said Lorne Milette, a former Mary's Fish Camp resident whose signature appears on one of the decisions. "We just sat around and talked."
The Hernando County Attorney's Office issued a subpoena to Dyck in June 2008. But he never showed up for court and later got a 179-day sentence on a contempt charge. He finally gave his deposition in February 2010.
Perry did not respond to messages. He lost his court case, and last year, the Florida Department of Revenue said he owed more than $85,000 in taxes. He asked residents to leave. The Mary's Fish Camp sign was shrouded in black.
• • •
Dyck did not respond to a written interview request sent to his last known address in Miami. Phone numbers he once gave authorities no longer work.
Dyck acknowledged in the deposition that he charged $2,500 per trust. But it's unclear if he collected that on each property.
"I don't think he's doing it for free," said David Rodriguez, a Chicago lawyer who represented Dyck on the Hernando contempt charge. "(But) he's doing it because he believes in it."
Randall Nordlund, an attorney for a Miami church that used Dyck, said he accomplished nothing other than irritating the bank and making his client's task much harder.
"He didn't appear, he didn't help, he didn't respond," said Nordlund. "He's saying he's going to be a trustee, that he's going to help you. Where's the trustee when the system needs an explanation? Forget about that law, that's not very nice."
The Times did not hear back from a number of people who signed their homes over to Dyck. Those who did speak with reporters provided few details about Dyck's strategy or their own roles. Some said they were embarrassed; others said neither they nor Dyck did anything wrong.
Lorena Brand said she heard about Dyck from a friend and paid him $4,000 to help keep her Riverview home out of foreclosure. It did not work.
"He tells you he can save your home," Brand said. "At the end of the day, he can't do anything."
New Salem Church trustee Rufus Spencer said the church paid nothing to Dyck. He said Dyck did nothing wrong, but he's no longer in the picture.
David L. and Patricia Gilbert signed the deed to their Riverview home to a trust operated by Dyck in July 2010, Hillsborough records show. Three months later, Dyck signed the deed back to the Gilberts.
But David Gilbert was in no mood to talk about Dyck when a reporter knocked on his door.
"I don't know a Jacob Dyck," he said.
So are the records wrong?
"I don't know a Jacob Dyck!" he repeated.
Then he shut the door.
• • •
Dyck has landed on law enforcement's radar. The FBI interviewed him last year, according to Hernando sheriff records, though a spokesman said he had no information about him.
Dyck later said in a federal court filing that the federal agents said "you will be killed if you continue to advocate and sell your trusts."
Authorities in Hillsborough, Hernando and Clearwater have taken a look at Dyck's dealings. One such case was in Tampa, in January 2009.
A Coldwell Banker Realtor had stopped by a recently foreclosed home on River Boulevard the firm had listed for a bank.
The "for sale" sign was gone. So was the lock box on the door. When the Realtor tried her key, she realized the locks had been changed.
She knocked. A Hispanic woman who spoke little English opened the door — and shut it when the Realtor started asking questions.
What police later learned: Lazara and Onel Lopez lost the house, which they bought for $525,000, to foreclosure in July 2008.
No matter. In November 2008, Dyck filed his own documents in Hillsborough. The Lopezes had signed over the deed to the home they no longer owned to Dyck's trust.
The couple gave Dyck a $2,500 down payment and agreed to pay him $800 in monthly rent.
They had been there only about a week when the Realtor knocked on the door.
Police talked to Dyck, who told them that since he had put the house in a "pure trust," the couple owed the bank nothing. He said the $2,500 fee and rent he charged them would be used to maintain the property.
The couple moved out. Their church helped them find a new home. Onel Lopez told an officer that Dyck promised to refund the $2,500.
Police referred to the couple as "victims," but officers had to drop the case. That's because the victims never called back.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.