Billings, Mont. - Seven leaders of the anti-government Montana Freemen were sentenced to stiff prison terms for conspiring against the nation's banking system, though a judge spared more jail time for two of the defendants' wives.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour yesterday ordered ringleader LeRoy Schweitzer to 22 1/2 years behind bars, hoping to send "a loud and clear message to those who pass this hatred and ugliness around."
Schweitzer and five other defendants refused to enter the courtroom, continuing to demonstrate their scorn for the government. They were able to watch the proceedings via TV from a holding cell after Coughenour declined to have marshals bring them in by force.
Nine Freemen were convicted in two trials last year.
They and their followers were accused of trying to undermine the nation's banking system by issuing thousands of bogus checks totaling billions of dollars.
"What we are talking about is a calculated and organized program to undermine the banking system of this country and to encourage other, more ignorant people to violate the law," Coughenour said.
About two dozen members of the anti-government group, living on a farm on the plains of Montana, held FBI agents at bay for 81 days in 1995 before surrendering without a shot being fired.
Schweitzer was convicted on 25 counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, threatening a federal judge, illegal possession of firearms and participating in the armed robbery of an ABC-TV crew covering the Freemen.
The judge sentenced Daniel Petersen Jr., probably the No. 2 man in the Freeman hierarchy, to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution of $39,845.
Rodney Skurdal, 46; and John McGuire, 61, were also sentenced to 15 years. Dale Jacobi, 57, a former Canadian police officer, received 13 years; Richard Clark, 12 years; and William Stanton, three years.
Agnes Stanton, Stanton's wife, and Cherlyn Petersen, Petersen's wife, were sentenced to time served and released.
In addition to maintaining they are not subject to federal or state laws, the Freemen also claimed that God intended white people to rule the Earth, that blacks are animals and Jews are descendants of Satan.
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