Official: Gun charges after FBI raids in Midwest
ADRIAN, Mich.—The FBI said Sunday that agents conducted weekend raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio and arrested at least three people, and a militia leader in Michigan said the target of at least one raid was a Christian militia group.
Federal warrants were sealed, but a federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said some of those arrested face gun charges and officials are pursuing other suspects. Some of the suspects were expected in court Monday.
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold confirmed the FBI had been working in two southeast Michigan counties near the Ohio state line. FBI spokesman Scott Wilson in Cleveland said agents arrested two people Saturday after raids in two Ohio towns.
A third arrest made in northeast Illinois on Sunday stemmed from a raid Saturday just over the border in northwest Indiana, both part of an ongoing investigation led by the FBI in Michigan, according to a statement from agents in Illinois.
It wasn't clear what prompted the raids, but Michael Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, said one of his team leaders got a frantic phone call Saturday evening from members of Hutaree, a Christian militia group. They said their property in southeast Michigan was being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to Lackomar.
"They said they were under attack by the ATF and wanted a place to hide," Lackomar said. "My team leader said, 'no thanks.'"
The team leader was cooperating with the FBI, Lackomar said. He said SMVM wasn't affiliated with Hutaree, but a handful of Hutaree members twice attended monthly training sessions with his group that focus on survival training and shooting practice.
On its Web site, Hutaree quotes several Bible passages and states: "We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. ... Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."
An e-mail sent to the group by The Associated Press wasn't returned Sunday, and phone numbers for the group's leadership were not immediately available. Berchtold, the FBI spokeswoman in Michigan, wouldn't say whether the raids were connected to Hutaree.
Law enforcement swarmed a rural, wooded property Saturday evening near Adrian, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit, neighbors said. Two ramshackle trailers sat side-by-side on the property, the door to one slightly ajar late Sunday as if it had been forced open.
Phyllis Brugger, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said some people who lived there were known as having ties to militia. They would shoot guns and often wore camouflage, according to Brugger and her daughter, Heidi Wood.
"Everybody knew they were militia," Brugger said. "You don't mess with them."
About a month ago, 50 vehicles showed up on the property, and the women said neighbors assumed something bad was going on.
George Ponce, 18, who works at a pizzeria next door to a home raided in Hammond, Ind., said he and a few co-workers stepped outside for a break Saturday night and saw a swarm of law enforcement.
"I heard a yell, 'Get back inside!' and saw a squad member pointing a rifle at us," Ponce said. "They told us the bomb squad was going in, sweeping the house looking for bombs."
He said another agent was in the bushes near the house, and law enforcement vehicles were "all over." He estimated that agents took more than two dozen guns from the house.
Another employee, Ron Jakubczak, said the man who lived in the house often wore Army fatigues and would "play-fight" with his purebred German Shepherds. People at the pizzeria were surprised to find a military transport vehicle once parked in the man's yard, he said.
In Ohio, one of the raids occurred at Bayshore Estates, a well-kept trailer park in Sandusky, a small city on Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland. Neighbors said the man taken into custody lived in a trailer on a cul-de-sac with his wife and two young children.
A young man who answered the door at the trailer Sunday said no one from the family wanted to talk. A neighbor said he saw authorities with rifles run past his window and toward the trailer Saturday night.
"They took over the block like it was the Army. I thought we were being invaded," said Michael Morin, who lives two lots away.
Park manager Terry Mills said authorities blocked off the street for about an hour Saturday night.
"Needless to say, this has everyone talking," said Mills, 62. "We have a lot of retirees here who don't want all this commotion."
FBI agents in Ohio also made an arrest in Huron on Saturday night, said Wilson, the FBI spokesman. He said no further information would be released until after they appeared in court Monday.
Associated Press Writers Erin Gartner in Chicago; Rick Callahan and Charles Wilson in Indianapolis; John Seewer in Sandusky, Ohio; Matt Leingang in Columbus, Ohio; and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS location of property to southeast Michigan instead of southwest Michigan in 5th graf.)