A member of the Montana freemen and his associate were convicted Friday in a scheme to buy vehicles with bogus financial instruments issued by the anti-government group.
Russell Dean Landers, 45, who was among 14 anti-government freemen who surrendered to the FBI last summer after an 81-day standoff, was convicted of seven federal fraud and conspiracy counts. James Vincent Wells, 58, was convicted on 12 counts.
Landers and Wells were ordered to forfeit a luxury recreational vehicle and Chevrolet Suburban they delivered to Montana’s Justus Township in January 1996.
Prosecutors held that the two men drove the motor home and utility vehicle from North Carolina to Montana so the freemen could outfit an armed convoy of vigilantes, but FBI arrests and the standoff intervened.
Wells was held liable for $58,500 in cash and Landers for $3,114. The prosecution had sought $427,000 in cash to repay a Durham bank that had accepted the freemen-inspired “comptroller warrants.”
Defense attorneys said both men believed the warrants, similar to checks, were backed by legitimate liens on property obtained by freemen leader Leroy Schweitzer, the only defense witness.
Only Wells was present for the verdict. Landers has been locked in a cell since he refused to stop making a statement in court 2-1/2 weeks ago, and has watched the proceedings over closed-circuit television.
Charges against the men included bank fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, attempting to intimidate Internal Revenue Service agents and interfering with IRS laws.
Wells faces a maximum sentence of 129 years in prison and $5 million in fines. Landers faces a maximum 31 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. Sentencing was scheduled for May 19 in Wilmington.