Hawaii Monitor: Frivolous Claim Over Sovereignty Snags Homeowner
Rhetoric over Native Hawaiian rights can mask costly scams.
Reading time: 5 minutes.
The legitimate historical grievances of Native Hawaiians have unfortunately become a fertile soil for frauds perpetrated on Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike.
A number of competing individuals and groups claiming to be the legitimate successors to the pre-1893 Kingdom of Hawaii have encouraged a “sovereignty” narrative which includes the belief that official actions of the state since the overthrow of the monarchy are illegal, including real estate transactions.
These beliefs can have real consequences, as one former Kaaawa resident is learning after the sale of his home suddenly became entangled in a legal mess caused by an apparently fraudulent claim to the property filed by an unrelated third-party.
The homeowner, who Civil Beat agreed not to identify because he feared it could compound his woes, put his house up for sale after getting transferred back to the mainland. He recently accepted an offer on the house and the deal went into escrow. All looked good to go until he was informed the title search had turned up a document filed in the state Bureau of Conveyances less than three weeks ago claiming ownership of some or all of the property.
The document filed with the bureau on March 21 is titled: “Affidavit of Gilbert Ah Quin also known as His Highness Keone, a living Sovereign,” and claims to establish that the land had been granted to him in 2011 by the “Hawaiian Kingdom Government.”
The homeowner says he does not know and has never even heard of Ah Quin before being informed by the title company.
“What really scares me,” the homeowner told me this week, “is that the state put it in there (in the Bureau of Conveyances) without question. It should ring a bell right there.”
“When I spoke to the person who answered the phone at the Bureau of Conveyances, he looked up the document and immediately said, ‘yes, this is fraud,’” the homeowner said.
His question: “Then why did you accept it for filing?”
I reached Registrar Nicki Ann Thompson by phone yesterday. Thompson, who heads the bureau, explained that what is called their “regular system” is primarily a public notice system.
“Any document that is notarized and meets the format requirements of Section 502 HRS must be accepted for filing,” she said.
“It’s accepted for public notice,” Thompson said. “We are not a fraud prevention arm of the state, so it’s up to a court of law to determine whether the document is valid.”
Ah Quin’s affidavit claims the property in Kaaawa was “conveyed to me by His Highness Kaipo, Minister of the Interior, successor-in-office, and thereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED by Her Highness Lehua, Chief Justice, successor-in-office for the Supreme Court of the Aupuni O Ko Hawaii Pae Aina/Hawaiian Kingdom Government.” (emphasis in the original)
This appears to be the same group which has staged several high-profile protests at Iolani Palace since 2008. The link seems confirmed by the final part of the document which purports to be a “declaratory judgement” by the Supreme Court of the Hawaiian Islands. This document refers to “Mahealani, by the grace of God, of the Hawaiian Islands, Queen,” apparently a reference to Mahealani Kahau, the group’s leader, who claims the title of queen.
Ah Quin then professes “personal knowledge” the property was previously “fraudulently recorded … under the puppet governments” of the State of Hawaii and County of Maui, with a citation to an U.S. Army field manual, “Local governments under duress and puppet governments.”
Of course, Kaaawa is not located in Maui County, suggesting the document is simply copied from another earlier document relating to a different property on a different island.
Ah Quin did not return a telephone message left with a woman who identified herself as his sister. “I don’t know if he wants to talk to you,” she said.
So how did an apparently bogus conveyance from the minister, Kaipo No Last Name, backed up by the supreme court justice, Lehua No Last Name, and with the apparent approval of mysterious Queen Mahealani, get enough traction to threaten to undermine the sale of a home back out here in the real world?
The bureau’s Thompson made clear that her agency does not do title searches. Those are done by third party title companies using the information on file in the bureau.
Mike Imanaka, senior vice president of Title Guarantee, the state’s largest title company, referred questions to the firm’s in-house counsel, Lorrin Hirano, who was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Others, though, said title searches typically weed out obviously frivolous claims, and that could still happen in this case.
Documents similar to Ah Quin’s affidavit have turned up in cases where they have been used by homeowners to cloud existing property titles in attempts to stave off foreclosure. A sovereignty-linked foreclosure fraud scheme on Maui targeting Hawaiians, for example, resulted in federal fraud, mail fraud, and tax charges being filed against five people. Two defendants have already entered guilty pleas, and two face trial later this year. Charges against a fifth person were dropped after he was judged unfit to stand trial.
In an earlier fraud case dating back to the 1990s, principals in a company called Perfect Title put forward the same argument that land conveyances since 1893 have not been legal, and then sold clients on the idea that their unconventional views would be able to shield homeowners from foreclosure. They were wrong.
The tragedy in both the Maui and Perfect Title cases is that regular people relying on the high sounding sovereignty rhetoric ended up losing their homes through foreclosure.
The latest case is unusual in that it has targeted a homeowner not involved in the scheme. It’s a worrying new development.