A federal grand jury yesterday indicted Cliven Bundy and four others on 16 felony charges for their roles in Bundy’s armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management at his Bunkerville, Nev., ranch in April 2014.
The other four — Ammon Bundy, 40, of Idaho; Ryan Bundy, 43, of Nevada; Ryan Payne, 32, of Montana; and Pete Santilli, 50, of Ohio — are all behind bars in Portland, Ore., and already face a felony charge for their roles in the 40-day Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation that ended last week.
Cliven Bundy was arrested in Portland on Feb. 10 after stepping off a plane on his way to support his sons Ammon and Ryan and the remaining occupants at Malheur, who were surrounded by the FBI.
A federal judge Tuesday denied his release from federal custody, calling him a threat to public safety and a flight risk (Greenwire, Feb. 17).
Yesterday’s indictment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada could keep all five of them in prison for decades and force Cliven Bundy, 69, to forfeit his hundreds of illegally roaming cows.
Prosecutors said the defendants planned, organized and led the 2014 "massive armed assault" on federal law enforcement officers who were assisting BLM’s roundup of Bundy’s cattle. Scores of protesters with guns forced federal officials to abandon the roughly 400 animals that BLM had collected, the Justice Department said.
The defendants also recruited, organized and led hundreds of others to join them in the armed rebellion, DOJ said.
The indictment calls Cliven Bundy the "leader, organizer, and chief beneficiary of the conspiracy." His sons Ammon and Ryan were "leaders and organizers" who helped recruit followers and interfered with the impoundment operation through threats and intimidation, it said.
Payne and Santilli helped recruit followers and communicated the standoff’s objectives, among other charges, it said.
"The rule of law has been reaffirmed with these charges," U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden for the District of Nevada said in a statement. "Persons who use force and violence against federal law enforcement officers who are enforcing court orders, and nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others, will be brought to justice."
In 1993, BLM restricted the number of cattle Bundy was allowed to graze and his season of use on the Bunkerville allotment in an area known as Gold Butte, but Bundy refused to comply. He stopped paying his grazing fees and allowed the cows to run free for decades, despite multiple federal court orders that he remove them.
"Today marks a tremendous step toward ending more than 20 years of law breaking," said BLM Director Neil Kornze. "The nation’s public lands belong to all Americans."
The 51-page indictment contains a long list of alleged offenses:
- One count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.
- One count of conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer.
- Four counts of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
- Two counts of assault on a federal officer.
- Two counts of threatening a federal law enforcement officer.
- Three counts of obstruction of the due administration of justice.
- Two counts of interference with interstate commerce by extortion.
- One count of interstate travel in aid of extortion.
Maximum sentences for each of those crimes range from five to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. In addition, the indictment also alleges five counts of criminal forfeiture that, upon conviction, would require Bundy to forfeit property derived from the proceeds of the crimes totaling at least $3 million, as well as the firearms and ammunition possessed on April 12, 2014, DOJ said.
The indictment describes a hostile situation faced by the federal officials who guarded Bundy’s cows at the impoundment site, an area known as Toquop Wash about 7 miles from the Bundy ranch.
"The officers at the gate were dangerously exposed" at the bottom of the wash, which "acted like a funnel with them at the bottom and no natural cover," the indictment said. About 40 Bundy supporters stood in front of the officers carrying or brandishing firearms, and more than 20 others carried or brandished weapons on the bridges above, it said.
In the afternoon, finding "too many guns to count," officers abandoned the impound site and the cattle, it said.
The indictment also cites several alleged threats to civilians and federal officials in the run-up to the standoff.
On or around March 28, Cliven and Ryan Bundy and others blocked a convoy of vehicles containing horses and equipment that were to be used in the roundup, "confronting and threatening civilian contractors," it said.
On two occasions in early April, Ryan Bundy traveled to Utah to threaten BLM’s contracted auctioneer with violence and economic harm if he tried to sell the Bundy cows.
On April 9, Ammon Bundy and Santilli collided an all-terrain vehicle into a BLM truck that was being used in the impound operation, according to the indictment. They attempted to enter the stalled vehicle and tried to throw a rock at police protecting the vehicles, the indictment added.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Myhre and Nicholas Dickinson and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nadia Ahmed and Erin Creegan.