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Undercover 'supply sergeant' helped bring down Alaska militia

William Fulton, who ran a military surplus store, became the arms dealer for Schaeffer Cox, who got 25 years in prison for plotting to kill government workers.

January 12, 2013|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Cox and company discussed how they were going to go to the homes of selected enemies, cut the electricity to the house, and make enough noise to lure their main target onto the front porch, where he could be shot. Then the windows and doors would be boarded up, and the house, with the rest of the family inside, would be set on fire. "Collateral damage" is the way Fulton said they described it.

After Cox left, Fulton phoned Klein. "I'm like, 'Help! What am I supposed to do? Do I need to get my family out of here?' And she's like, 'We'll handle it. Just try to figure out as much as you can.' She was really good at calming me down, but even for her, I could tell it was stressing her out."

The next day was the gun show, and Fulton again met with Cox, along with others from various militias.

"We walk into this meeting, and they're wanding everyone. If you had a gun that was fine. They were looking for electronic listening devices," Fulton recalled.

Fulton said he sensed that he needed to make it apparent to everyone that he was a tough guy who could be counted on, and he went on the offensive with Cox.

"I said, 'Listen, you're a piece of.... You brought all these people in this room. You said you had a plan; you don't have a plan.'"

Zerbe walked up to him. "He says, 'You were never going to help us anyway,'" Fulton recounted. "I saw the doubt start to come up.... If they had for a minute mistrusted what I was saying, I probably would have been dead." He walked toward Zerbe. "I said, 'If you ever question me, I'll slit your throat and bleed you out at my feet.'"

Someone intervened and calmed everyone down. Fulton said he told Cox not to worry — he'd help him get what he needed.

At the next meeting, several months later in Anchorage, Fulton was playing the role of arms dealer. With FBI agents eavesdropping nearby, both Fulton and Olson — neither knew the other one was working as an informant — met with militia members, with Cox joining in by speaker phone.

"We discussed their shopping list. Explosives: C4, Semtex, fragmentation grenades … machine guns, silenced weapons. Pretty much a laundry list of bad things," Fulton said.

Within a month, in March 2011, Fulton flew up to Fairbanks and handed over some of the illegal armament to Olson, who then met up with the defendants in a parking lot. He was about to hand over pistols, silencers and grenades when the parking lot owner walked up to the vehicle and asked what was going on. FBI agents rushed in and made the arrests.

By this time, Fulton was already on his way back to Anchorage.

"I flew home and tried to explain to my wife why there was a moving van at my home," he said. "We knew that once the arrests went down, it was going to be literally days before people figured out who at least one of the informants was. We needed to be gone by the time those questions even started to be asked."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Skrocki, who prosecuted the case, scoffed at the assertions of Cox and others that Fulton scared them into talking about plans to kill federal officials. "The argument that Bill Fulton was a danger to Mr. Cox comes only from Mr. Cox," Skrocki said.

Did Fulton need to go into hiding? Are there people in Alaska who'd like to kill him?

Klein and her co-agent, Derek Espeland, seem dubious. But they say they've been in enough investigations to know what it feels like to operate undercover with bad guys.

"You go somewhere and you try not to be detected. And yeah, you have a little bit of fear," Klein said.

Fulton is trying to finish his book, which he hopes will earn some money. He collected $39,000 from the federal government for his work on the Cox case, but figures he lost a lot more, what with his house, his business and the money he spent playing the big guy in the militia movement.

Still, he's getting monthly disability payments for an old Army injury. His wife has a job. And for the first time in several years, he's spending the winter in some place that isn't Alaska.

kim.murphy@latimes.com

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