FAIRBANKS - Four of the five Interior residents arrested on state murder conspiracy charges last week now face federal charges after a federal grand jury announced two indictments this afternoon.
For Salcha couple Lonnie and Karen Vernon, federal charges include conspiracy to kill an IRS employee, U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline and family members. The charges supercede an earlier federal indictment of Lonnie Vernon alone. The maximum penalty for the conspiracy to murder charge is life in federal prison.
Fairbanks resident Francis “Schaeffer” Cox, 27, and Coleman L. Barney, 36, of the North Pole area, now face federal charges of conspiracy to possess illegal weapons. Cox faces additional charges for the possession of a Sten submachine gun and manufacture of a silencer.
There was no federal indictment of Michael O. Anderson of 14 Mile Elliott Highway, who was charged in state court with conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping along with the others.
U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler, at a news conference in Anchorage, had no comment on whether any other charges are pending against the five. She said the investigation was not closed.
“Investigations are always continuing until trial,” she said.
In order to prove the conspiracy charges, U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki will need to prove the defendants made an agreement to do something illegal and had taken an “overt act” in furtherance of the goal, Loeffler said.
“The federal charges are not about anybody being a militia member or not being a militia member,” she said.
The four federal defendents were identified in a court document last week as “command staff” members of the Peacemakers Militia group formed in 2009 by Cox.
“Just as much as we will arrest people who threaten people’s lives or have illegal weapons, we will protect people’s rights to get in organizations and talk about anything they want,” Loeffler said.
The federal indictment for Lonnie Vernon, released last week, mentions his past dealings with Beistline as a possible motivation for plotting to kill him.
The Vernons have been fighting with the IRS for nearly two years about more than $165,000 the government says the Vernons owe in taxes, penalties and interest. Federal attorneys filed liens on the Vernons’ Salcha home and sued to foreclose on it in July 2008.
In court hearings, Beistline presided. The Vernons served as their own attorneys and argued they did not need to pay taxes because they did not recognize the U.S. government as legitimate.
In state court, the four federal defendants and Anderson are charged with plotting to kill Alaska State Troopers, an assistant district attorney and court officials. In that case, prosecutors last week filed a 17-page charging document that outlines a plot led by Cox to resist any attempt to arrest him with twice the display of force used by law enforcement. Cox had an arrest warrant for not facing a misdemeanor charge at a jury trial scheduled Feb. 14.
Much of the evidence against Cox and his associates came from secret FBI recordings, according to the document.
A state grand jury has not yet returned indictments on the state charges. Indictments are due Monday.
Cox has a separate hearing today on the misdemeanor weapons charge he never faced last month. That case stems from an incident last year where he allegedly failed to notify a Fairbanks police officer that he was carrying a concealed weapon.
A court date in the new federal charges has not yet been set, but the four defendants likely will be brought before a federal judge today or Monday to be arraigned, Loeffler said.