A “sovereign citizen” who tried to scam ownership of a former restaurant site in Colonie was sentenced to 2 1/3 to seven years in state prison on Thursday.
Judge Peter Lynch imposed the sentence on 22-year-old Zachariah Latnie for his bid to sell property he did not own.
Latnie will be eligible to serve his sentence in a shock incarceration program, six months of highly regimented substance-abuse treatment.
Prosecutors asked the judge to impose a much harsher sentence of five to 15 years. Lynch pointed out the man does not have a criminal record and committed the crimes at age 19.
“It’s like you’ve been somehow brainwashed into thinking this whole universe exists for you. It does not,”Lynch said to Latnie.
The District Attorney’s office says the 1893 Central Ave. property Latnie tried to sell was worth $1 million.
The jury, which began deciding Latnie’s fate on Jan. 18, reached its verdict the next day: Guilty on 15 of 21 counts.
Latnie was convicted of attempted grand larceny, burglary, possessing burglar’s tools, conspiracy, tampering with public records, filing false deeds and falsifying business records. They acquitted him of six counts alleging tampering with public records and false filings.
The verdict ended an unusual case in which Latnie argued he possessed a building that he admitted he never purchased.
Latnie claimed he owned the building through “adverse possession,” placing a notice on it.
“People do not enter property that they have legal rights to be entering through the roof,” Lynch said during the sentencing.
In August 2014, Colonie police charged him with trespassing but he returned to the site and was arrested again. He filed phony deeds with the county clerk’s office and tried to sell the property, which was in foreclosure.
When Latnie testified in January, Assistant District Attorney Brittany Grome confronted him with the words of former county attorney Thomas Marcelle, who told Latnie’s sister and co-defendant, Kazia Latnie, her brother had no legal interest in the building.
Latnie scoffed, telling Grome, “There are a number of ways legal interest may be acquired or derived from. Any legal interest? That’s a swooping term. I don’t know how he was able to apply that to my specific process.”
Latnie also denied being a disciple of the anti-government sovereign citizen movement, while testifying he followed the advice of sovereign citizens.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks anti-government groups, says sovereign citizens follow a “conspiratorial belief system that argues that most Americans are not subject to most tax and criminal laws promulgated by the government.”
In 2011, the law center said sovereign citizens had ideological roots in anti-black racism, but that a growing number of “Moorish” African-American sovereign citizens have emerged.
By his own admission, Latnie, who is black, wrote a letter referencing “Moorish” groups and a sovereign citizen, “Brother Polight,” who wrote a book called, “Real Estate or Legal Fiction.”
Latnie acknowledged he followed the advice of Tex Mason, a self-proclaimed “Moorish national” who wrote a book called “Home 4 Free,” Assistant District Attorney Shadi Masri noted in January.
Latnie told the judge Thursday that he intends to appeal the conviction.