Moorish Nation, whose members make it their business to assume ownership of vacant luxury homes without paying a dime, appears to have established an outpost in one of Charlotte’s finest neighborhoods.
For at least three months, according to neighbors and attorneys familiar with the case, a woman named Ninti el Bey and up to eight other people have been living on and off in a 5,200-square-foot home in Piper Glen.
According to documents associated with the case, the 42-year-old Bey has launched a one-woman legal fight to keep control of the expansive stucco structure on Kelly Woods Lane. She has defied or threatened Realtors, the Piper Glen Homeowners Association and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, documents indicate. She has been evicted at least once and was arrested as recently as Saturday.
Yet, Bey and her clan always seem to find a way to return, and neighbors say the lights come back on almost every night in the supposedly vacant house.
Members take a generously broad view of their rights to other people’s property – often targeting expensive homes that are vacant, foreclosed upon or up for sale, then filing nuisance court actions to hold their ground as long as possible.
Bey appears to be practicing the familiar methods of Moorish Nation – or at least the religious group’s radical offshoot that doesn’t recognize federal, state and local laws. Members also take a generously broad view of their rights to other people’s property – often targeting expensive homes that are vacant, foreclosed upon or up for sale, then filing nuisance court actions to hold their ground as long as possible.
Bey, who now faces charges ranging from breaking and entering to trespassing, offers a particularly dogged case.
Residents say she turned up in late July or early August, taking residence at 4817 Kelly Woods Lane – a home on a small cul-de-sac that was foreclosed upon in the spring and was put on the market by a New York bank last summer. Neighbors say Bey enrolled her children in schools – the bus stops each morning to pick them up – and the occupants wheel out their garbage on pickup day. For weeks, a big yellow truck was parked in the home’s circular driveway.
Once the neighborhood caught on, Bey took the offensive. Confrontations at the front door repeatedly led to shouts and threats, attorneys and residents say, and police have been called to the scene.
The home has a tax value of $804,000. According to documents amassed by the homeowners association, Bey first claimed to have bought the property for $1 from a Dutch company, then said she was leasing the four-bedroom, five-bath mansion. The name she gave for her landlord appears to belong to a Hungarian porn star.
Last month, she claimed in a letter to the homeowners association that her new home is owned by the “International Indigenous Trust.” She also filed cease-and-desist orders against the Realtor and complaints of harassment against CMPD officers and the neighborhood group.
The Oct. 2 letter warns the homeowners association to stay away.
“This is private property and the right to bear arms is fully executed,” the letter says. “Do not harass or stalk the premises or the people in the home. ... There is a very important person/diplomat from the International Indigenous Trust residing in the community, and there will be no trespassing allowed.”
Charlotte attorney Jerry Miller, who represents the neighborhood association, says none of Bey’s filings “are worth a cup of Starbucks’ coffee.” But they have sucked up court time and raised concerns in the cul-de-sac, whose residents range from an elderly couple to several families with small children.
One Piper Glen resident, who asked not to be identified out of concern of drawing Bey’s ire, said homeowners around Bey have installed additional surveillance and bought weapons to protect themselves.
The accused squatters have been evicted at least once, about a month ago. The locks were changed, and their possessions were stacked up on the street. The items, which the resident said made up a very small pile on the curb, included four air mattresses and an inflatable couch.
Residents thought the situation had been solved. That night, the lights came back on in the gray stucco house.
Media reports of the Moorish Nation phenomenon place North Carolina high on the list for the group’s activity. But it’s happening everywhere. Two years ago, a man claiming to be a Moorish national took up residence in a $6 million home for sale in suburban Washington, D.C. Around the same time, it took a Memphis SWAT team to evict a woman from a 9,000-square-foot mansion she claimed as her own. At her court hearing, the woman repeatedly challenged the judge’s authority to hold her accountable.
“It’s going on in every state,” Kory Flowers, an investigator with the Greensboro police and a national expert on sovereign groups, told the Washington Post.
Moorish nationals have long been familiar players in the local courts. Two weeks ago, a Charlotte murder suspect, claiming Moorish sovereignty, challenged the authority of the county’s highest-ranking Superior Court judge to handle his case.
Bey’s criminal record appears to show that she has home hunted like this before. She has had almost $350,000 in liens assessed against her in North Carolina and Michigan since August 2013, and she has been accused of forcible entry involving at least two other Charlotte addresses.
Last Saturday, Chase JP Morgan Bank, which owns the Piper Glen home and has been fined $300 a day by the homeowners association as the standoff has dragged on, filed a criminal complaint. Police records indicate that Bey was charged Saturday with breaking and entering a building, second-degree trespassing, driving with a revoked license, a fictitious tag and expired registration. Within hours, the neighborhood resident said, she was out of jail on bond and back in the neighborhood.
The bank’s attorney, Julia Hartley of Charlotte, declined comment Thursday.
Piper Glen, just off Rea Road and I-485, is home to a championship golf course, a large lake and some of the finest homes in suburban south Charlotte. Late Thursday morning, nobody answered the door at 4817 Kelly Woods Lane. Several boxes of items were visible through the window of a front room.
Miller, the neighborhood’s attorney, says Bey and others like her have found a niche in property laws and wormed their way in.
The standoff on Kelly Woods Lane has been going on for months, he says. “I can’t believe we can’t get this woman out.”
Researcher Maria David contributed.
About the Moorish Nation
The phenomenon of Moorish nationalism is becoming more familiar in courtrooms around the country. The original religious movement appears to have begun about a century ago. But under the tenets of a radical offshoot of the group, local laws don’t need to be obeyed, and mortgages and other legal documents are seen as invalid. In several cases, Moorish nationals have moved into palatial homes, forging documents that allude to obscure treaties to justify their ownership. They also have been known to retaliate against officials who cross them by filing multimillion-dollar liens on their property. When arrested, they claim sovereign status – similar to international diplomats – refusing to recognize the authority of police and judges.