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Marshals’ ruse ended tax evaders’ standoff

Sat., Oct. 6, 2007

CONCORD, N.H. – After months of monitoring a couple convicted of tax evasion, all U.S. marshals needed to get inside their fortress-like home was a little deception.

Ed and Elaine Brown, who vowed for months to resist if authorities tried to arrest them, put out a welcome mat for what they thought was a group of supporters. The people turned out to be marshals who arrested the pair without a single shot fired.

“They invited us in, and we escorted them out,” U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier said Friday, releasing the first details of Thursday night’s arrests.

The arrests ended a standoff that began in January, when Brown, 65, a retired exterminator, and his dentist wife, 67, walked out of their federal trial in Concord. She returned to the trial but soon joined her husband at home, where they promised a violent end to any attempt to remove them.

“We either walk out of here free or we die,” Ed Brown said.

The couple claims that no law authorizes collection of the federal income tax and that the 1913 constitutional amendment permitting it was never properly ratified. Courts have repeatedly rejected that argument.

Officials discovered booby traps in the woods on pair’s 100-plus-acre property and found weapons, ammunition and homemade bombs inside and outside the house. Monier said more charges are likely.

“By their continuing actions, allegedly, to obstruct justice, to encourage others to assist them to obstruct justice, by making threats toward law enforcement and other governmental officials, they have turned this into more than a tax case,” Monier said.

The Browns were turned over to federal prison officials to serve more than five years behind bars. They were convicted in January of scheming to avoid federal income taxes by hiding $1.9 million of income between 1996 and 2003.

Experts had praised authorities’ hands-off approach before the surprise arrests, but patience had worn thin among some of the 2,400 residents of Plainfield, in west-central New Hampshire. During the summer, town selectmen asked Monier to stop the influx of militiamen and other anti-government groups to the Browns’ home.

Monier said he was sympathetic to the complaints, but cutting off access to the Browns would have undercut his plan. “Ultimately, this open-door policy they seemed to have – which allowed the Browns to have some supporters bring them supplies, welcome followers, even host a picnic – this proved to be their undoing,” he said.

Thomas Aveno of the Police Policy Studies Council said the peaceful end to the standoff could signal a shift away from the tactics used in the 1992 shootout at an Idaho property called Ruby Ridge and the deadly government siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the following year.

“I think this is probably the most ingenious thing a federal agency’s ever done,” said Aveno, whose Spofford, N.H.-based group focuses on law enforcement research, training and consulting.

“I would like to think this is evidence that they’ve evolved and are looking for ways to defuse and bring resolution in ways that don’t involve meeting force with force.”


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