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Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. 

   That’s how the saying goes, and western Montanans should have it in mind given the two recent bizarre cases of people moving into unoccupied houses and filing false documents claiming ownership.

As a Missoulian story last week reported, these two incidents may not be entirely isolated. In fact, they may be part of an unnerving national trend. And if that turns out to the case, Montanans can either take preventive action now to deter this kind of abuse before it wastes even more time and money, or brace ourselves for more of the same.

First, in February, police arrested 53-year-old Brent Arthur Wilson for allegedly breaking into a Lake County home in foreclosure. If the allegations are true, he not only changed the locks, he attempted to create an unnavigable paper trail by filing strange documents – referencing the “creator, Yahweh” and describing the home’s location as the “third-planet-from-the-sun” – with the Lake County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Wilson has been charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors, and was sent to the Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs for a mental evaluation

Meanwhile, Missoula County has its own strange case on its hands with 37-year-old Jackiya Dionea Ford, who has been charged with burglary for allegedly moving her possessions into a home in Lolo, changing the locks and attempting to file bizarre documents with the Missoula Clerk and Recorder’s Office. What’s more, she has also filed lawsuits against the homeowner, Bob Paffhausen, as well as Dave Walrod and Tony Rio of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, Deputy Missoula County Attorney Dori Brownlow and Chief Deputy Clerk and Recorder Debbe Merseal.

Both these instances, while unusual to western Montana, are consistent with the “sovereign citizens” movement being widely promoted online, where websites teach people how to file official paperwork aimed at creating a tangle of legal documents that eats up a lot of time and public resources to sort out.

They are free to file all the frivolous and fraudulent lawsuits they want in Missoula County because there are no criminal repercussions for doing so. Were there a specific criminal penalty associated with knowingly filing  fraudulent lawsuits or false documents, future opportunists may be a lot less eager to take advantage of our legal system.

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