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Is ‘sovereign’ group a cover for real estate rip-offs?

Updated: July 27, 2014 8:14AM



Earlier this year, someone identifying himself as a representative of the Moorish Science Temple of America sent Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough and City Treasurer Stephanie Neely an “affidavit” informing them they were each being fined $1 million for slander.

Their alleged offense?

They had gone on television to alert Cook County residents to a scheme by which individuals claiming to be members of the Moorish Science Temple had used the organization’s religious status as cover for a series of real estate scams.

Their evidence?

Neely had learned to her chagrin that two years earlier someone from the group had filed false legal documents claiming to be the owner of her home — after already illegally moving into the vacant house next door as part of a scheme that clouded the title of dozens of other properties.

As you might imagine, the $1 million fine had no basis in law, nor apparently do hundreds of other purported legal documents that have been filed in the name of the Moorish Science Temple in recent years, most of them worded in a nearly indecipherable quasi-legal gibberish.

But that hasn’t prevented more such filings from arriving weekly at the Recorder of Deeds office, many from individuals who subscribe to the belief that as members of the Moorish Science Temple, they are exempt from certain U.S. laws, particularly those related to taxation.

In this regard, they fit the ideology of the sovereign citizen movement that was in the news here last week with the federal trial of a woman convicted for filing ridiculous liens against federal judges and prosecutors.

As I’ve learned in that time, it seems nobody wants to be saddled with the sovereign citizen label. Members of the Moorish Science Temple are no different.

“We’re not no sovereign citizens. The Moorish Science Temple is a sovereign entity,” said Walter Neal, drawing a distinction I would be hard-pressed to explain.

Neal was speaking to me by telephone from a commercial building on Pulaski near Lake that once served as former Ald. Ed Smith’s ward office and now is the temple or “consulate post” for one of the local Moorish Science groups.

Let me interrupt right here to note that the Moorish Science Temple is a religion, and it’s never a good idea to over-generalize about any religion or its adherents.

As far as the religion part of it goes, I think one of the great things about our country is that anybody is free to believe what whatever they want to believe — as long as they don’t hurt anybody else.

With that disclaimer, I have to say most people would find the Moorish Science Temple pretty strange.

One of it main tenets is that African-Americans are the indigenous people of the U.S., granted special privileges and immunities under a treaty with the government of Morocco in 1787, and therefore properly regarded as Moors or Moorish.

“The ancient Moroccans gave the Europeans permission to come over here. This ain’t no fictitious stuff,” said Neal, who seemed well-meaning enough. He emphasized that members are Moslems not Muslims — to differentiate themselves from the Nation of Islam.

The religion was started in New Jersey in 1913 by the Prophet Noble Ali Drew, born Timothy Drew, who later came to Chicago, where he legally incorporated the Moorish Science Temple in 1928, the original documents a reference point for many of the current filings. Chicago continues to be one of its strongholds.

“This is the Mecca of the West,” Neal said. “That’s why the Sears Tower is down there facing west.”

If you don’t believe any of this, Neal says you should check out “U.S. Department of Defense File 1-17,” which is typically cited on Moorish Science Temple documents as evidence of its authenticity.

Most of the filings are harmless, such as one from an individual declaring his 2000 Cadillac DeVille exempt from six citations he had racked up, basing his claim on being exempt from “any tax of any type” as a Moorish American.

I’m sure the Department of Revenue can set him straight.

Where it gets sticky is when somebody uses the Moorish Science Temple to lay claim to real estate.

One fellow told me about his elderly father who was convinced that if he turned over his home to the group, it would allow him to stop the bank from foreclosing. Now, the 74-year-old is facing eviction.

Neal decries such tactics, attributing them to what he calls “dirty Moors” who hide behind the religion to conduct criminal acts.

“There’s a lot of dirty Moors out here,” Neal said. “They’re the ones making the Prophet look bad.”

As Stephanie Neely will tell you, you might want to take a look at the title to your house to make sure somebody hasn’t claimed it.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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