A key member of the Montana freemen described himself to a federal jury Wednesday as simply a desperate farmer who never understood or participated in the freemen’s multimillion-dollar financial schemes.
However, Edwin Clark acknowledged signing the bank deposit slip for a $100 million “comptroller warrant,” endorsing some bogus checks created by LeRoy Schweitzer and signing dozens of Freeman documents.
But he insisted he never received one of the checks or profited from them in any way. When Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Seykora showed him some of the bogus checks made out to him, he said he had never seen them.
The Clark family farms formed most of what the freemen called Justus Township, several thousand acres in eastern Montana’s remote “Big Open” where the freemen held the FBI at bay for 81 days in the spring of 1996.
Clark, 47, is credited with a major role in negotiating the surrender that brought the standoff to a bloodless end.
A brief recess was called after Clark broke down on the stand while testifying that he had lied to some of his fellow freemen while trying to negotiate an end to the stalemate.
He said the FBI showed him a memo that said agents would not wait much longer before moving against the freemen. Clark said he lied when he told the freemen that the memo was signed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
Later, his voice rose for the only time when he declared, “I made it very clear from the beginning that I didn’t want anybody to get hurt!”
Seykora, however, asked why he had not sent his then-21-year-old son Casey to safety when the siege began, and why he allowed Casey to carry a gun and stand guard duty.
Clark and five other secondary figures in the standoff are on trial as accessories for helping several fugitive members of the freemen avoid arrest. Clark also is charged with bank fraud for attempting to deposit the $100 million Freeman check in the Garfield County Bank at Jordan.
Clark’s five hours of testimony and cross examination broke the wall of silence and noncooperation maintained by him and the other freemen who are on trial.