L. Neil Smith's

Number 22, February 15, 1997.

The Big One Bites The Vipers

By Fran Van Cleave

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         On Tuesday, January 31, five more members of the Viper Team pleaded guilty to weapons and conspiracy charges. Four of them, Rick Walker, David and Ellen Belliveau, and Donna Star Williams, took the government plea, while the fifth, Dean Pleasant, did not. Pleasant pleaded guilty to two counts of 'conspiracy to instruct' and one count of unlawful possession of a machine gun.
         On December 19, Randy Nelson and Gary Bauer gave similar "straight up" guilty pleas, also to Class III weapons and conspiracy charges. Pleasant said he found the government's plea agreement unacceptable, so that despite its written guarantee of minimal prison time, he could not subject himself to its restrictions.
         All of them wanted to go to trial until federal prosecutor Janet Napolitano added the superseding indictments 100 days after their arrests, which increased the mandatory prison time for two of the defendants by ten years. Judge Carroll then split the trials so that all of the gun charges would be tried first, without (per Judge Carroll) the defense being allowed either to examine the disputed weapons or to use Constitutional arguments. As it now stands, neither of the government informants are required to be present at the trial.
         Three other Vipers, Henry Overturf, Scott Shero, and Walter Sanville, took the government plea agreement. A few are having second thoughts about that, but so far, only Charles Knight and Chris Floyd will stand trial; the court date is March 23. This was rescheduled from January 23 because Mr. Knight's lawyer detached himself from the case, apparently because of what transpired during an interview Mr. Knight did with the New Times, a local weekly.
         Most critically, at some point during the interview, Mr. Knight ignored a court order and showed the reporter the infamous "government buildings videotape." The audiotext is now at large on the Internet, because the reporter taped their conversation, transcribed it, and placed it there. Interestingly, Channel 12 managed to obtain a copy, with which they made their own version of the "government buildings video," playing it on the air.
         Even as the Vipers plead guilty, the government's case seems shaky indeed. Why has there been no investigation of the hundreds of missing guns at Shooter's World, employer of confidential informant Drew Nolan? Why has so much effort been exerted by the government to ensure that the confidential informants stay out of the courtroom, including making Doc Schultz an official ATF agent on May 26, the day before they went to the grand jury?
         I don't have the answers to those questions, but I do have a few additional factoids.
         Gary Bauer has been corresponding with a woman in Estrella Jail who said that she was a former employee of Game & Fish, and knew both of the informants. They discussed this in their letters, and Gary tried to send her a group picture to see if she could pick them out. Estrella would not allow her have the picture because there were guns in it, which they say is against their policy.
         This woman, who shall remain nameless for now, is serving time for murdering her husband. Dean Pleasant, who is incarcerated in Florence, has encountered someone there who claims to know the people who did murder her husband, and he states furthermore that she was an intended victim of the hit. She was saved by her decision to go to the store shortly before the killers arrived. She also claims that the authorities offered to free her last year, under the condition that she agree not to sue them, which she refused.
         This woman claims that Nolan sold her and her husband an illegal machine gun. Nolan was also employed by Shooter's World, the gun superstore that should have lost its ATF license because of bad recordkeeping, which included an inability to keep track of hundreds of guns that apparently vanished into thin air.
         Shooter's World, you may recall, supplied one of the confidential informants with two automatic pistols which he had no license to carry.
         Apparently Nolan asked two of the Vipers, Randy Nelson and Gary Bauer, to help with the gun theft problem by viewing security videotapes of the store's premises. Nelson has stated that these showed guns being stolen from the store and loaded into the back of cars. Who stole them, and where did they go? No one seems to know.
         Early last week, Steve Ott, ATF agent in charge of the Viper investigation (also the agent in charge of Ruby Ridge) visited this woman in her cell at Estrella Jail. According to Bauer's brother Dean, who has spoken with her by telephone, Agent Ott accused her and Bauer of plotting to have Schultz and Nolan killed.
         Accusations have been leveled against two other members of Viper families, based on the indisputable fact that they, too, attempted to send her a group picture of the Vipers, but no official charges have been made. If in fact there was any substance to these allegations, one would suppose that this would have been done already. The lawyers for the defense have been trying to find these men to subpoena them for months without success. (They've had no success at getting all the discovery from the prosecution, either. At least the government is consistent.)
         It seems implausible on the face of it that someone of less stature than Joe Bonnano could contract a hit from her jail cell. It makes no sense for people who know their phone calls are recorded at the jail, and who suspect their mail is being read, to conspire under the watchful gaze of the authorities. And it makes no sense for people to risk life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder when the sentences they now face are so much less severe. Furthermore, would these lovebirds not be working toward earning their release from prison as soon as possible, so they could be together at last?
         What is more likely is that one love-lorn inmate was trying to verify whether his new girlfriend really knew two people who were central figures in his case -- and the government jumped on them with both feet, desperate to cover up its own dirty tricks.
         Of course, I could be wrong. We all saw what a straight-forward, honest fellow Agent Steve Ott was at Ruby Ridge.
         Only a few months ago, an associate of Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who runs Estrella Jail) admitted to sending guns from Shooter's World to Macao after British police trailed the guns here to Phoenix. Another man, a Samoan, was arrested in Tucson on gun-smuggling charges at about that same time, and Dean Pleasant informed me that that man was supposed to have been kept out of jail by the Viper's arrests.
         An investigation needs to be done, and if there is no Viper trial (government lawyers have said it isn't "worthwhile" to try "only two") then it could be a long while before the facts are brought to light, if ever.
         Deb Williams, one of the Viper defense lawyers, interviewed this woman at Estrella and feels that she is credible. I hope that the informants can be found, subpoenaed, and forced to face the defendants they have accused (as the government seems to have forgotten the Sixth Amendment requires).

Fran Van Cleave is a gun owner, a fledgling science fiction writer, and Libertarian activist. She believes the militia phenomenon to be a mirror image of the '60s hippies, and just as opaque to the mainstream media.

Space for Fun and Profit

NASA delenda est.

There's plenty of money to be made in space; let's go get some.

Houston Space Institute
PO Box 266151
Houston, TX 77207-6151
(713) 990-9536

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