COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — One of two men charged with squatting in single-family homes and renting them out to fellow squatters in Beverly and Morgan Park told a judge Wednesday "we should not be arrested or even put in jail for beautifying vacant properties across the city."
David Farr, 45, lodged his protest in court Wednesday — but the judge wasn't buying it. She raised his bail and that of his co-defendant, Torrez Moore, 55.
The two men — and two others still on the lam — don't recognize the U.S. government and don't believe banks should be allowed to own homes, prosecutors said.
Instead, they are accused of burglarizing the homes, changing the locks, posting "No Trespassing" signs, filing fraudulent property documents and charging rent to fellow squatters.
Farr and Moore were charged with burglary, theft and financial-institution fraud after authorities said they illegally occupied more than a dozen single-family homes in Beverly and Morgan Park since 2012. During a July 1 bond hearing, both men were ordered released on their own recognizance pending trial — so long as the Cook County Sheriff's Department agreed to provide electronic monitoring.
But Moore and Farr were back in court Wednesday, where Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas raised their bail amounts to $500,000 and $1 million, respectively.
Police are still searching for Raymond Trimble, 52, and his son, Arshad Thomas, 26, who authorities said also were part of the scheme.
According to prosecutors, Farr has spent the last few weeks living with his girlfriend, who was squatting in a home she didn't own. Authorities didn't immediately realize the woman's paperwork was fraudulent, prosecutors said.
Farr also is accused of violating the terms of his electronic monitoring during a recent trip to traffic court. Authorities allege Farr was given permission to leave his girlfriend's home to appear in traffic court; he was not allowed to travel anywhere else.
But during that trip, Farr also went to the Cook County Criminal Courthouse and the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, where he spotted a photo of himself and details about his case, prosecutors said. Farr took a picture of the photo and allegedly told an employee Farr planned to subpoena him at a later date.
Prosecutors said Farr (who also goes by Fahim Ali, Jalani Ali and Sekou Ali) returned home that day 1 hour and 16 minutes late.
In court Wednesday, Farr told Chiampas that he needed to visit the courthouse and recorder's office to file paperwork for his case, and that he didn't understand why he had been arrested in the first place.
"We should not be arrested or even put in jail for beautifying vacant properties across the city," Farr said, claiming that Illinois has a law allowing him to do so.
Prosecutors said Moore and Farr consider themselves Sovereigns or Moors — that is, people who don't recognize the U.S. government and feel "entitled to special privileges and immunities from federal and state law."
The men believe they are the rightful owners of the properties they squatted in and rented, and that banks aren't allowed to own property, prosecutors said.
Chiampas on Wednesday initially set Farr's bail at $75,000 with special conditions. If Farr were to post bond, she said, he would be ordered to home confinement. He would not be allowed to return to the Recorder of Deeds Office, or have any contact with the employee he allegedly threatened to subpoena.
When Chiampas asked Farr if he understood the conditions, Farr said "I still don't understand" and reiterated that he needed to file paperwork at the Recorder of Deeds Office.
Chiampas then raised the bail amount to $1 million.
Moore, meanwhile, has been in custody since the initial July 1 bond hearing because he could not find a suitable place to live, according to court testimony. A Cook County Sheriff's Office employee said alternative housing options were filled.
"I tried to get electronic monitoring, and I couldn't find anywhere to go," Moore told Chiampas. Chiampas raised Moore's bail, after a request from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, to $500,000. She told Moore that if he finds suitable housing, he can request the court review his bond once more.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez earlier this month said most of the renters knew they were living in these homes illegally. Many refused to leave when police asked them to, prosecutors said.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said the investigation was prompted by complaints from area residents who noticed suspicious activities in the houses, many of which were unoccupied after going into foreclosure.
Reports of squatters moving into 19th Ward surfaced in September. In response, the alderman's office worked with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough and urged constituents to sign up for a fraud alert on their homes' deeds.
Alerts are meant to counter the acts of these bold squatters, who mostly target homes in legal limbo after a foreclosure. The unlawful tenants typically lay further claim to the building by filing a deed with county officials claiming possession of the previously empty house.
Last month, O'Shea said some of the squatters had become adept at blending into the neighborhood. Many of them mow the grass, plant flowers and even sign up for utilities at the homes where they're not supposed to be living.
Empty homes are typically targeted in the scam, but all homes are susceptible to a con artist filing a false deed. Concerned homeowners are encouraged sign up for a free fraud alert service to counter such acts.
For more information, visit the website for the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Contributing: Howard Ludwig
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