Two charged with trying to free Montana Freemen leader

Associated Press/March 25, 2003

Billings, Mont. -Two men posing as "Montana marshals" tried to free Montana Freemen leader Leroy M. Schweitzer from a federal prison in Edgefield, S.C. last week, the Billings Gazette reported in Wednesday's editions.

Edgefield County deputies arrested Ervin Elbert Hurlbert, 82, of Ravalli, and Donald Little, 55, of Tacoma, Wash., on Friday.

The newspaper report said the pair appeared in federal court in Greenville, S.C., on Monday on a criminal complaint charging them with assisting in the attempted escape of Schweitzer. Hurlbert also was charged with impersonating an officer or employee of the United States.

Schweitzer is serving a sentence for convictions in a massive bogus-check scheme.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanne Howard in Greenville said U.S. Magistrate William M. Catoe set bond for each defendant at $25,000 and appointed attorneys to represent them.

Schweitzer, 64, formerly of Belgrade, has been serving a 22-year sentence for 25 convictions of crimes stemming from a scheme to issue bogus checks. A jury convicted him of conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, false claims to the IRS, interstate transportation of stolen property, threats against public officials, armed robbery of a television news crew and firearms violations.

Schweitzer is expected to be released in 2018.

Schweitzer, of Belgrade, headed the Montana Freemen, an anti-government group that claimed its members were sovereign and not subject to the court's jurisdiction. They also espoused white supremacist religious ideas.

Members of the extremist group set up their own common-law court. They taught classes on their religious beliefs and check scheme to hundreds of people who traveled to their headquarters on a foreclosed farm near Jordan in eastern Montana.

FBI agents arrested Schweitzer in 1996, triggering an 81-day armed standoff between an army of FBI agents and the other Schweitzer supporters. The standoff ended without a shot fired when the remaining fugitives surrendered.

According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Deborah A. DeVito, two men entered the lobby of the federal prison on March 21 in Edgefield, identified themselves as "Montana marshals" to a prison officer and told her they were there to take custody of Schweitzer. The men presented her with documents, including one that appeared to be a writ demanding that the warden relinquish custody of Schweitzer to "Marshal Ervin Elbert clan of Hurlbert."

One of the documents said, "United States of America Special appointed Marshal Ervin Elbert: clan of Hurlbert shall assume full responsibility for the custody of the Justice/Petitioner," meaning Schweitzer.

DeVito said the documents had been signed by Schweitzer and three former Edgefield inmates. Prison officials notified the sheriff's department and deputies arrested the men.

DeVito said she tried to interview Little, but he refused to answer questions. He repeatedly told the agent that he was a "process server, noncombatant." Little also told the agent he was not a United States citizen but an "American National Citizen" and a foreigner from the "Country of Montana."

DeVito said in her affidavit that Hurlbert waived his rights but refused to sign a waiver form. Hurlbert told the agent he owned his name and would not sign anything.

Hurlbert said Schweitzer had sent him documents, which he presented to the Edgefield prison officials. In the documents, Schweitzer said he was "volunteering to return to the Country of Montana."

Hurlbert also told the FBI agent that the codes of the "Country of Montana permit the establishment of their own Supreme Court and Justices."

Hurlbert said he would not have "resorted to violence in any way to liberate Schweitzer," the Gazette reported, but admitted having a 9mm handgun in his vehicle for personal security. He said the gun was registered in the "Country of Montana. "

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