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FBI Offers 'Freemen' Surrender Deal, Gritz Says

May 01, 1996|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JORDAN, Mont. — The FBI has issued a 24-hour ultimatum to a dozen anti-government "freemen," offering to drop state criminal charges and consider leniency on some federal counts if they end their 5-week-old standoff on a remote Montana ranch, negotiator James "Bo" Gritz said Tuesday.

Gritz said the holdouts were "elated" after a two-hour meeting with two Montana state officials, who were attempting to work out a solution to the freemen's demand for a public forum through which they can denounce the legal foundations of the government.

The fugitives said they expected "a judicial end" to the standoff, and Gritz said he believed some of the freemen with children could begin leaving the ranch as early as dawn today, when Gritz returns for their response to the ultimatum.

"Whatever kind of fairy dust those guys [the state officials] were dropping, it's contagious," Gritz said in describing the freemen's high spirits. Gritz entered the wind-swept compound after the departure of state Rep. Karl Ohs and Assistant Atty. Gen. John Connor Jr.

But he said he still is not convinced that the most militant of the freemen are ready to give up.

"My skin feeling is they won't have the forum they want," Gritz said, noting that the Montana Legislature, which meets biennially, does not convene again until January 1997. "They aren't coming out . . . I believe unless there is some [intervening] circumstance, they will not be budged until they are in custody."

State officials said they could not discuss the purported offer to drop criminal counts, which include charges of criminal syndicalism stemming from the freemen's repeated threats against public officials--including $1-million bounties placed on the heads of the Garfield County attorney, sheriff and a judge--and an attempt to take over the Garfield County courthouse to conduct their own self-styled common law court.

There are also charges in Utah and South Carolina pending against other fugitives who joined the Montana freemen at their 960-acre ranch. Both states have agreed to either drop those charges or consider lenient sentences, Gritz said.

A separate federal indictment charges 10 of the roughly 20 hold-outs with a variety of fraud and conspiracy counts stemming from allegations that they issued millions of dollars in bogus money orders under the auspices of their common law government.

While the FBI has not agreed to drop the charges, Gritz said, the ultimatum was styled this way: "If they come out within 24 hours, it's Monty Hall time," he said, referring to the host of the old television program "Let's Make a Deal."

"If they don't come out within 24 hours, it gets more complicated," he said.

Sue O'Connell, spokeswoman for Atty. Gen. Joe Mazurek, said she could not confirm that the state has offered to drop criminal charges, nor the status of the freemen's request for safe passage to the state capital in Helena and a forum with the Legislature or the governor to proclaim their beliefs.

"We won't want to comment on any aspects of the discussions, since they are still ongoing," said O'Connell.

Gritz, a decorated former U.S. Army Green Beret who helped end the FBI siege at Randy Weaver's mountain cabin at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, said the freemen have proposed bringing in Judge Robert H. Bork as a long-term mediator of the conflict.

Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court by then-President Reagan in 1987, but went down to defeat by a Democrat-controlled Senate, whose critics labeled him as anti-civil rights, anti-consumer and against equal rights for women.

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