Marshals' ploy ended standoff peacefully
Acted like supporters to lure out tax evaders
For months, convicted tax evaders Ed and Elaine Brown pledged to die in a hailstorm of bullets rather than surrender to federal agents. They had survived on food, water, and supplies delivered by supporters who came from across the country to their heavily fortified, secluded mountain compound in Plainfield, N.H.
This week, the Browns' reliance on their extensive support network proved to be their undoing. At 7:45 Thursday evening, US marshals in plainclothes pretending to be supporters of the Browns lured the couple onto the porch of their fortified compound and arrested them on the spot. No shots were fired.
The ruse brought an end to a months-long standoff by the defiant Browns, who were convicted in January of failing to pay $625,000 in taxes. The marshals turned them over to federal corrections officials, who will escort them to prison.
"They invited us in, and we escorted them out," US Marshal Stephen Monier said in a telephone interview. Monier, who oversees the New Hampshire district, led the effort against the couple but was not present at the arrest.
After the marshals handcuffed the Browns and led them away, law enforcement officials found homemade explosive devices, ammunition, and booby traps in the house and on the grounds, Monier said. He declined to be specific about the amounts or kind of explosives and ammunition the marshals found.
Ed Brown, 65, a retired exterminator, and his wife, Elaine, 67, a dentist, were convicted in January of hiding $1.9 million of income from federal tax authorities between 1996 and 2003. They were sentenced in absentia in April to 63 months in prison and a $215,890 fine.
The couple argued in court that no law authorizes the federal income tax and that the 1913 constitutional amendment permitting it was not properly ratified. The courts repeatedly rejected their argument.
After the Browns were convicted, they holed themselves up in the Plainfield compound, which sits atop 103 acres near the Vermont border. They set up a MySpace page using the words "Live free or die" as their motto and vowed to resist arrest violently and die rather than go to prison.
Wary of provoking bloodshed reminiscent of Ruby Ridge or Waco, federal agents had stayed away from the Plainfield compound. Monier sent the Browns letters urging them to surrender peacefully. In June, federal agents seized another property the couple owned in Lebanon, N.H., and cut off all utilities to their Plainfield home.
But the Browns switched to a wind turbine generator and solar panels. They used satellite dishes to connect to the Internet and to maintain at least two websites that attracted new supporters.
Their ardent followers brought the Browns food, water, and other supplies including cellphones. Many supporters stayed on the sprawling compound, including at one point Randy Weaver, who infamously resisted arrest at Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992.
Yesterday supporters of the Browns posted outraged messages on the couple's MySpace page. "Browns Kidnapped by US Marshals!" one posting read. On another website, one supporter wrote: "My God, it's a police state. Get your guns ready."
Last month, authorities in Vermont, New York, Texas, and Missouri arrested four men who were alleged to have helped to obstruct justice in the Browns' case. The men are in custody in New Hampshire, Monier said, awaiting trial on charges that include possession and use of a firearm.
When marshals arrested the Browns Thursday, no supporters of the couple were present, said Monier. "The Browns invited what they thought were another group of like-minded individuals to their house," he said. "This group of supporters were US marshals. "
The marshals turned the Browns over to federal corrections officials, who are escorting them to an undisclosed prison.
The couple will probably face charges for possessing and making explosives, Monier said.
"Unfortunately by their actions the Browns have turned this into more than just a tax case," he said.