FOX 8 Investigates: Sovereign Citizen movement in Louisiana

FOX 8 Investigates: Sovereign Citizen movement in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A FOX 8 Defenders investigation first exposed the scheme. Earlier this month. Kyron Hunter and Tamika Gotch were arrested and linked to a Craigslist rental scam that involved fraudulently leasing out homes that had been foreclosed on. According to investigators, both suspects claim to be sovereign citizens.

"They've got two people they really have to take a hard look at from an intelligence standpoint to see who else is in town and what they're going to do, and so they have to push the intel piece big time with these guys," said former New Orleans FBI Special Agent in Charge Jim Bernazzani.

While the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office says they're still investigating the case, Bernazzani, knows all about sovereign citizens and the trouble they've caused across the country.

"It runs the gamut from fraud - mortgage fraud especially - to jamming up the courts with reams and reams of paper that ties up the prosecutors, the judges, and everybody, because basically they're being pains in the neck and they're trying to make it as difficult as they can for the government. And they're very good at it," Bernazzani said.

According to the FBI's website, sovereign citizen extremists are considered a domestic terrorist movement because they are "anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or 'sovereign' from the United States."

"Most of these people basically believe that the federal government and the United States has no authority over them, that they do not have to obey laws of the land, in particular laws that have to do with taxes, having to do with driving a car, requiring a license and so on," said Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also monitors the movement and says they are seeing sovereign citizen activity in all 50 states.

"Sovereign citizens, in fact, are the single largest sector of the radical right out there today. Our best estimate is that there are as many as 300,000 people who are involved in one way or another with the sovereign movement. Probably not all of those people are engaging in illegal action, but they're interested," Potok said.

And Louisiana is no exception. You may remember in August 2012, four St. John Parish deputies were ambushed and shot. Two of those deputies were killed. Authorities said some of the suspects in that case had ties to the extremist sovereign citizens group.

"We produced a few years ago a training video for police officers about sovereign citizens. We have at this point given away that free training video to more than 120,000 officers and departments. We have gotten an enormous amount of requests for this video because the problem is so prevalent," said Potok.

As for Kyron Hunter and Tamika Gotch, both are now facing fraud charges. Sheriff's deputies say they found a loaded AK-47 rifle and a loaded 12-gauge pump shotgun in their SUV.

"I'd be careful. So if you feel you are dealing with a sovereign citizen, call the FBI," Bernazzani said.

We reached out to the FBI about this story. In a statement a spokesman said: "Although the FBI can't discuss any pending investigations, wherever possible, the FBI looks into all violations of federal statutes, regardless of the individuals or groups believed to be responsible."

Copyright WVUE 2015. All rights reserved.