October 5, 1997 in City

Judge Tells Freeman To Help Fbi, Irs Sentencing Delayed For Farmer Who Tried To Defraud Bank

Associated Press

A federal judge has postponed the first sentencing of one of the Montana freemen to see how much cooperation the man gives to investigators.

“I don’t want to send you to prison unless I have to,” U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour told Lavon Hanson Friday. “But that’s going to turn entirely on whether they are satisfied that you’ve helped them.”

Hanson, 47, an Opheim farmer, has pleaded guilty to a charge of bank fraud.

He talked to FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents for five hours on Thursday. Friday, however, Justice Department lawyer Robinson Park told the judge it’s too soon to tell how cooperative Hanson will be.

Coughenour postponed sentencing until Dec. 5.

The judge described Hanson as a minor player “who got sucked into something in desperation to try to save his family’s farm.”

“People who are desperate sometimes do really stupid things,” Coughenour said.

The bank fraud charge says Hanson submitted a bogus money order for $428,000 to a bank in Spokane in 1993 to pay the loans of a neighbor. Federal sentencing guidelines call for Hanson to serve 18 to 24 months in prison, but Billings attorney Mark Errebo urged the judge to order less.

The bank did not take the money order seriously and lost no money, Errebo said. In addition, he said, Hanson is in the midst of a lawsuit to prevent foreclosure of his farm, and the farm will collapse if he goes to prison.

The judge suggested that sentencing be postponed so prosecutors can study Hanson’s statement and talk with him again if necessary. When Errebo hesitated, Coughenour said, “If we go forward today, he’s going to get 21 months.”

Hanson was arrested March 25, 1996, when FBI agents captured him and freeman leaders LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen in a sting operation outside “Justus Township,” the freemen’s rural stronghold 30 miles northwest of Jordan. That was the beginning of an 81-day standoff with the FBI.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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