SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Two alleged militia members accused of plotting to blow up a California propane plant in an attempt to fan Y2K hysteria and overthrow the U.S. government pleaded not guilty to federal firearms and drug charges Monday.
Kevin Patterson, 42, and Charles Kiles, 49, entered their pleas at a preliminary hearing in Sacramento following their indictments Friday by a federal grand jury.
If convicted on all charges, Patterson could face up to 75 years in prison, while Kiles could face up to 15 years. Both men are being held in the Sacramento County Jail without bail.
The pair was arrested this month after a year-long FBI investigation into an alleged militia plot to blow up two huge tanks containing 24 million gallons of propane in Elk Grove, a fast-growing suburban area outside Sacramento. The resulting blast could have triggered a hellish firestorm that officials said could have killed as many as half the people living within a 5-mile radius of the plant.
While none of the charges currently laid against the two men mention the alleged plot specifically, government prosecutors say their investigation of the men and their activities continues.
According to an FBI affidavit detailed earlier this month, an informant told officials that Patterson was involved in a conspiracy to attack multiple targets in northern California, including television and radio towers. The affidavit also said both men had past involvement with the San Joaquin County Militia, which authorities said planned to use violence to bring about martial law in the belief that this would help the group attract a public following to launch a revolution to overthrow the U.S. government. The affidavit alleges that both men were involved in trying to buy illegal weapons. Police said they seized an arsenal of weapons and bomb-making materials during a search of the pair's northern California homes as well as storage lockers and homes in Reno and Carson City, Nevada. Authorities said among the hundreds of items seized were metal pipes, grenade bodies and dummy fuses, AK-47 magazines, an Uzi gun piece and blasting cap containers.