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Fortier's Neighbor May Tie Theft to Funds for Bombing : Oklahoma: Grand jury testimony on rifle could help spur plea bargain. Gun was stolen from same dealer whose key was found at Nichols' home.

July 06, 1995|RONALD J. OSTROW and RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

OKLAHOMA CITY — Indicating that authorities are moving toward charging Michael Fortier in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, a close associate of Fortier and of suspect Timothy J. McVeigh has been called to testify today before a grand jury about how the bombing may have been financed.

James Rosencrans, a next-door neighbor of Fortier's in Kingman, Ariz., allegedly sold a rare rifle that had been stolen from an Arkansas gun collector on Nov. 5. The collector, Roger E. Moore of Royal, Ark., has said that he thinks McVeigh masterminded the robbery, and authorities are looking at that crime and other evidence of illegal weapon sales as possible sources of financing for the bombing.

Prosecutors have been trying to reach a plea bargain with Fortier--who was an Army buddy of McVeigh's and helped him get a job in Kingman--on a lesser charge in the bombing case. They are insisting that Fortier plead guilty to a crime that would ensure a 15-year prison sentence, a demand that he and his lawyer apparently are resisting.

One source close to the case said that Rosencrans' scheduled appearance before the grand jury does not necessarily signal that a deal with Fortier has fallen through. The source noted that prosecutors would continue to collect evidence from Rosencrans, even if Fortier had agreed to cooperate.

Rosencrans, 29, who often has carried a pistol in his belt, is a mercurial individual who has denounced government and who has been arrested at least six times, according to records on file in Mohave County Superior Court in Kingman.

The last of those arrests occurred in May, when he was charged by local law enforcement officials with brandishing weapons outside his home as authorities searched Fortier's house trailer. Rosencrans subsequently pleaded guilty to a domestic abuse complaint and served less than a month in jail.

The grand jury's interest in Rosencrans includes the allegation that he recently sold a rifle to a Kingman gun shop that authorities have matched with one of the more than 68 firearms stolen from Moore.

The Moore robbery now figures into the bombing case because federal agents found a safe deposit box key taken in the crime in a 55-gallon drum at the Herington, Kan., home of Terry L. Nichols. McVeigh and Nichols are the only two charged in the April 19 bombing, which killed 168 people.

Moore has told investigators that McVeigh visited his home in Arkansas several times and was familiar with his gun collection. He said that he thinks the bombing suspect may have set him up for the robbery but that he does not think McVeigh took part in the crime, in which one robber struck him on head and bound and gagged him while his home was ransacked.

On another matter, attorneys for McVeigh complained in legal papers filed Wednesday in federal court here that prosecutors and the FBI are blocking their efforts to interview key witnesses.

The accusations follow similar complaints last month by Nichols' attorneys. But in his case, a federal judge ruled that the government was not engaging in improper conduct and that there was no need for a court hearing to explore allegations that the FBI is shielding witnesses from the defense until after the Aug. 11 deadline for an indictment.

But in the briefs filed by McVeigh's attorneys, the lawyers went a step further and included affidavits from their private investigators in which they contend that the owner of a Ryder truck rental agency as well as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol have been instructed by the FBI not to cooperate with the defense.

"The defendant can establish that the government has participated in obstructive conduct and has specifically informed crucial witnesses not to speak to the defense," said McVeigh's attorneys, led by Stephen Jones of Enid, Okla.

In one affidavit, defense investigator Richard Reyna of Conroe, Tex., said that he had attempted to interview Eldon Elliott, owner of Elliott's Body Shop in Junction City, Kan., where McVeigh allegedly rented the van used to transport the bomb to Oklahoma City.

But, Reyna said, Elliott replied that "he had been told by the FBI that he was not to speak with anyone about the facts of the case because they didn't want to get things distorted."

When Reyna pushed the matter, he said, Elliott showed him an FBI business card and "again stated that he could not speak to the defense per the instructions by the FBI."

Marty Reed, a defense investigator from Oklahoma City, said in a separate affidavit that he has been unable to interview Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Charles Hanger, who arrested McVeigh on a traffic charge 90 minutes after the bombing.

Government officials indicated they plan to refute the allegations, as they did in the Nichols case.

Ostrow reported from Washington and Serrano from Oklahoma City. Times staff writer David Willman contributed from Kingman, Ariz.

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