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4 Occupation Leaders Could Also Face Charges in Nevada

Cliven Bundy was arrested in Portland on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Cliven Bundy was arrested in Portland on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

John Locher/AP

The criminal complaint filed against rancher Cliven Bundy today in U.S. District Court in Nevada revealed new connections between the April 2014 standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, and the January 2016 standoff outside Burns, Oregon.

Most significantly, the complaint establishes that federal prosecutors in Nevada may be preparing to charge the alleged leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in Oregon for their earlier roles in the confrontation with law enforcment officers trying to impound Cliven Bundy’s cattle in Bunkerville in 2014. 

Bundy stopped paying grazing fees to the BLM in 1993 and has been under court order to remove his cattle from federal land since 1998. 

Four people listed as Cliven Bundy’s criminal co-conspirators in the 2014 Nevada standoff “have been arrested and are detained on federal charges lodged in another district,” according to the complaint.

The complaint does not name those co-conspirators, but details in the document make it possible to identify them as Cliven Bundy’s sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, Montana militia leader Ryan Payne and Internet broadcaster Peter Santilli.  

“On April 12, Bundy and his co-conspirators organized and led a massive armed assault against federal law enforcement officers,” the complaint states.

The details in the complaint that help identify the co-conspirators include Ryan Payne’s widely reported role as the leader of a militia network called “Operation Mutual Aid,” and an interview Pete Santilli conducted on April 8, 2014, with Cliven Bundy.

“I cannot confirm it, but I suspect that that Co-conspirator 4 may well be Pete Santilli,” said Santilli’s defense attorney, Tom Coan.

Coan said he is preparing for the possibility that his client will face charges in Nevada as well as in Oregon.

“This is the first time I’ve had parallel cases in two different districts,” Coan said.  “As a practical matter, it’s going to cause difficulty for their attorneys to meet with and communicate with them. They’ll have attorneys both in Oregon and Nevada.”

Coan said he found it strange that the U.S. attorney in Nevada waited so long to charge Cliven Bundy for his actions at Bunkerville.

“Did they charge only because Ammon Bundy and some others took over the refuge up here, and they said, ‘Hey, we can’t let this go on, we have to put a stop to it?’” he asked. “I think that’s a good question for the prosecutors.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for the district of Nevada would not comment on whether the office was preparing charges against Bundy’s co-conspirators, citing an ongoing investigation into the Bunkerville incident.

To date, Cliven Bundy is the only conspirator involved in the Bunkerville incident to be charged.

Bundy has been charged with multiple felonies, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United states, assault on a federal law enforcement officer, using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of volition, obstruction of the administration of justice, and interference with commerce by extortion.

Bundy faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, up to 20 years in prison on the assault charge and the extortion charge, and up to 10 years in prison on the obstruction of justice charge.

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