2 Investigates: Oakland housing activists charged with criminal conspiracy and trespassing

A housing rights activist featured in a 2 Investigates Report is facing felony charges in Alameda County for attempting to acquire an Oakland woman's house through a little-known law called adverse possession.

That activist Steven DeCaprio is one of four people facing criminal charges. The charges include felony conspiracy to commit a crime, filing false documents, and misdemeanor trespassing.

The Alameda County District Attorney's office says the members of the non-profit housing rights group Land Action, which DeCaprio founded, took over an elderly woman's house on Barbara Road in Oakland from October 21, 2015 through January 19, 2016.

The criminal complaint states that DeCaprio and Land Action CEO Kelly Kristine Jewett assisted Patrick Mengchih Xu and Aisha Munira Alves-Hyde in moving into the house. Prosecutors say the defendants changed the locks, took down a "no trespassing sign" and signed a contract for management of the property.

On October 21, 2015 DeCaprio filed an affidavit with the county stating Land Action had taken possession of the property with the intent to take over payments of the property taxes. The owner Hazel Webb had fallen behind on her property tax payments. Through California's adverse possession law, under certain circumstances a person who occupies a property and pays the property taxes for five years can acquire legal ownership rights.

"Before I looked through, it was run down, just looked like junk," said one neighbor Aaron Yim. Yim says last fall he noticed a young man and woman making changes at the house next door and thought they were new homeowners, not squatters.

"They broke all that down. Started renovating everything and then a few weeks later, little did we know, the police came," Yim said, "He was in there for a good month before anybody really noticed anything."

The complaint states that Hazel Webb had bought the home in 1970 and kept the house for sentimental reasons, even though she no longer lives there. Prosecutors say the owner had been paying a gardener to maintain the property monthly, and when the gardener discovered Xu living in the house in December 2015, the owner immediately ordered Xu to leave.

Prosecutors say Webb paid part of her overdue tax bill after learning about the occupants. KTVU obtained a copy of the tax statement, which included handwriting in the corner reading, "Help Lord Jesus come quick...Attempting to steal property from a woman of God."

A letter from the Alameda County Assessor dated December 24, 2015 stated that "Land Action does not legally own any part of this property."

In September 2015, DeCaprio spoke with 2 Investigates about how he used adverse possession to take ownership of a house. He says he founded Land Action to teach other people how to do the same.

"This is a movement of people struggling, using mutual aid to address their own needs for survival," said DeCaprio, who said that the Bay Area's high housing costs are hurting many people.

The activists say they had agreed to vacate Webb's property and now are being unfairly targeted.

2 Investigates contacted the District Attorney's office Thursday, but a spokeswoman said they had no comment at this time.

Attorney Tony Serra who represents the four defendants said they plan to file a motion to dismiss the case Friday.