BOCA RATON, Fla. – A six week showdown between Boca Raton neighbors and squatters in a $2.5 million dollar mansion has ended.
Bank of America on Thursday took possession of a waterfront home in Boca Raton that the bank says at least eight people were squatting in.
Boca Raton Police removed personal belongings, mostly clothing and toiletries, from the mansion, located at 580 Golden Harbour Drive, so the bank could take possession of it. No one was found inside.
Bank of American then had the locks changed.
The ordeal started in Dec. 2012, when 23-year-old Andre de Paula Barbosa broke in to the home, changed the locks, and filed a claim for adverse possession, say police.
Florida's adverse possession statute allows a person to establish ownership if a title is absent. For a short period of time, it looked like the Brazilian national committed the brazen act of stylish squatting, living for free in luxury, legally.
However, Bank of America fired back by filing suit in late January to declare that they are the property owners and had never allowed Barbosa to enter the premises, which defined the young man as a trespasser.
"In consultation with our State Attorney's Office within the last 24 hours, we determined that we could indeed conduct a trespass investigation," said Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander.
Bank of America issued a statement, saying: "We appreciate the assistance of local authorities and the patience of neighbors as we worked to have the trespassers removed. We take trespassing seriously and, in the interest of the community, we will take appropriate legal action to protect this and all properties we service."
Bank of America is seeking $15,000 in damages from Barbosa.
The FBI won't officially confirm what neighbors suspect, what they say a field agent told them: that the squatters are members of the anti-government "sovereign citizens" movement. Boca Police Chief Dan Alexander also would not confirm the allegation, only mentioning they are still investigating to see if any further actions are necessary.
Neighbors showed Local 10 the bizarre signs they say Barbosa posted on the home's front door and garage shortly after moving in.
The language talks about respecting the rights of indigenous people, their "diplomatic status" and the international white flag of peace.
A white flag is displayed outside the more modest Pompano Beach home listed for Barbosa. No one answered the door when Local 10's Christina Vazquez paid a visit Thursday night.
The signs Barbosa posted on the Boca mansion he moved into also asks government agents or agencies to provide two forms of photo identification.
One of the signs appears to be an official document at first glance; it's complete with a seal and the signature of a J. McBride, Postmaster General. In it, Barbosa, a Brazilian national, claims: "Andre De Paula Barbosa birthed December 29, 1989 1. is a commercial vessel, an official carriage registered under the universal post office and authorized to transport the official post and sacred cargo beyond the sea; and 2. is a non-combatant, neutral in the public at peace with the Crown, and 3. flies the International flag of peace, and 4. is under the protection of the Crown and the 'One Holy' all taxes and tithes prepaid."
He also claims to be "a living beneficiary of the Divine Estate. The supreme authority upon the soil and land of the true free holding landlord [Land Barron] being the Divine Spirit expressed in living trust, Living Beneficiary to the DIVINE ESTATE, being supreme and free of commerce and usury, is at all times upon and within the judicial district and the general post office beyond the sea. The soil and the land is artificially referred to today as the magisterial judicial districts of the county estate(s) and is superior to any Commercial Code imagined in the illusionary world of Commerce and Usury of the said soil and land."
All along, neighbors said they thought it was too clever for a 23-year-old. They told Local 10 they remember a photographer named Paul Murray walking around their neighborhood, passing out business cards and telling them he planned to move transients into the home. Murray's business card and Facebook Page describe him as a "photographer extraordinaire" with a client list that includes Bill Clinton and the Jackson family.
Over the phone on January 27th, Murray denied the neighbor's allegations, and said he was in the neighborhood only to "snap pictures." He did, however, admit to knowing Barbosa through "associates."
On Thursday, Vazquez reached out to Murray again to get his take on Barbosa's official eviction. Despite recent ABC News posts about the coverage on his Facebook page, Murray denied knowing anything about the case or the adverse possession claim Barbosa used to move into the home. Vazquez also asked if he self-identified as a sovereign citizen or loosely with the sovereign citizen movement. His response after a brief moment of silence was, "I don't know anything about that."
Murray's Facebook page makes several references to the story: "Please understand people you have a right to the land but many of you don't know that because they are trying to control you. Everything has a law to it but if you don't read you will never know. God give you the right to live any where in the world and it doesn't cost you any thing the system has ever one fool. They don't want to see this the truth and they try to make it sound bad but it is not it is the truth . and they put it right in front of you and you don't see it."
Murray also references the law Barbosa has employed to stay in the home: "The law is if you see an empty house that is not being taken care of you can file the proper papers and move in it. That is the law."
In another Facebook post, Murray writes: "Banks can not own property please read you are being taken study study it is there for you to read. It is all FRAUD That is why they have to pay so many people back now...thee are to many homeless people in this country and now it it time to do something about it. You must read read and teach your self the law."
A voicemail message left on the mobile number Local 10 had for Barbosa was also unreturned.
Community reacts to Barbosa's removal from mansion
Neighbors said they wished the bank had taken action sooner.
"Today is relaxing because we know it's over," said Art Grossman. "We've worked all our life to get where we are and a young kid comes in and pulls some strings and all the sudden he ends up with a house free of charge?"
"I think it's ethically morally challenged, and I also think this kid picked the wrong neighborhood," said Mike Aviron.
"Had Bank of America done what they did today six weeks ago, it wouldn't have gone this far," said Grossman.
If Barbosa or anyone else returns to the mansion, they could be charged with trespassing, say police.