“If only a palace will do,” the real-estate come-on went, “this is your house.”
Lamont Butler, according to news reports, decided that a palace would do quite nicely and moved in.
And a palace it was. One of the largest homes in the Washington, D.C., area, the 35,000-square-foot house had imported-marble floors, 12 bedroom suites, six kitchens, a three-story entryway and sweeping views.
The mansion belonged, and still does, to cosmetics millionaire Rashid Chaudary. It was a great place for entertaining, and Chaudary reportedly entertained both Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
(Perhaps some day there will be plaques all over Washington in honor of our gregarious and sociable 42nd president saying, “Bill Clinton was entertained here,” much like the markets that boast, “George Washington slept here.”)
Inevitably, the Chau-dary children grew up and moved away (although the house is so big, how could they tell?). And since 35,000 square feet is a lot of empty nest, Chaudary and his wife moved back to Chicago, where his business is headquartered.
The house went on the market where, one can safely speculate, it might have lasted only a few days if Mitt Romney had won and brought his wealthy backers to town, people of means who weren’t going to live in any old mansion — certainly not one without an elevator in the garage.
The mansion sat empty until Butler discovered it — the one problem, which he didn’t find insurmountable, being that he didn’t own it.
Butler, described by The Washington Post as “a personable 28-year-old,” claims to be something called a “Moorish American national,” whose theology apparently allows members of this group to lay claim to any parts of America that take their fancy, which run heavily to lavish — but unoccupied — mansions.
Armed with citations from a 1787 peace treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a historic map and other documents, Butler showed up at the county clerk’s office, using his “Moorish” name, Lamont Maurice El, and demanded that the house, which he planned to use as an embassy, be put in his name.
With that unfortunate mulish intransigence that bureaucrats can show, the county clerk said: No deed, no house.
Chaudary apparently was unaware of any of this — until the county police chased Butler off and kept him out of the property on subsequent sweeps.
Washington has a small cadre of charlatans claiming to be high-level emissaries from plausible-sounding-but-wholly-fictitious countries, claiming diplomatic immunity, special parking privileges and, inevitably, freedom from U.S. taxation.
It doesn’t work here, but in other parts of the country these bogus nationalities try to intimidate local officials by swamping them with liens and lawsuits that are inevitably thrown out of court, but not after the hapless public official has had to waste time and money defending himself.
Butler was bagged last summer by a suburban police officer for going 68 mph in a 55-mph zone in a car with Moorish license plates of his own design. According to the Post, he sued the state attorney general, two judges, three police officers, the owner of a towing company and all of their spouses for $1.05 million to be paid in gold coins.
This is not unique to Washington. The Internet lists numerous cases of con artists with straight faces, glib lines of patter and briefcases full of phony documents who occupy vacant mansions until the courts get around to throwing them out.
There’s even a name for them — “high-end squatters.”
We’re all honest people here. But in a way, don’t you have a sneaky envy for their chutzpah?
It’s a beautiful mansion, nobody’s using it, what would be the harm, and surely San Remo, Andorra, Trans-Dniester wouldn’t mind a little volunteer representation ...