For five years, a New Yorker named Mickey Barreto managed to live rent-free in the landmark New Yorker Hotel by exploiting a local housing law. However, prosecutors say Barreto went too far when he filed paperwork claiming ownership of the entire hotel building and tried to charge another tenant rent.

Barreto was arrested this week and charged with filing false property records. He claims he was surprised by the police showing up with guns and bulletproof shields, as he believed this should have been a civil case rather than a criminal one.

The saga began when Barreto and his boyfriend paid $200 to rent one of the hotel’s over 1,000 rooms. Barreto learned of a loophole that allows occupants of single rooms in pre-1969 buildings to demand a six-month lease. After being kicked out initially, Barreto appealed and won, getting a court order for the hotel to give him a key.

However, prosecutors say Barreto didn’t stop there. In 2019, he allegedly uploaded a fake deed to a city website, claiming to transfer the entire building’s ownership to himself from the Unification Church, which had bought the property in 1976. Barreto then tried to charge rent and register the building under his name, leading to the current criminal charges.

Barreto maintains he never intended to commit fraud, claiming his legal battles were activist efforts to deny profits to the Unification Church, which has faced criticism over its ties to North Korea. Despite not hiring a lawyer, Barreto has represented himself in the ongoing civil case with the church.