Two Hailey residents face up to life in prison for their alleged involvement in an armed standoff with federal agents near the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy in 2014.
Eric James Parker, 32, and Steve Arthur Stewart, 26, of Hailey are among four Idaho men arraigned in federal court in Boise on Friday after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Nevada the previous day.
The two other Idaho defendants are O. Scott Drexler, 44, of Challis, and Todd Engel, 48, a resident of Boundary County in northern Idaho.
The indictments added a total of 14 more defendants to the ranch standoff case, bringing the number of people charged to 19. Five are members of the Bundy family.
Federal court filings allege that Bundy ignored court orders to pay federal public-land grazing fees in 1993, 1998, 1999 and 2012. In 2013, a 9th District Court order was issued to seize and remove Bundy’s cattle from his ranch due to his failure to follow previous court orders.
Last week’s indictment alleges that on the morning of April 12, 2014, Bundy ordered his armed followers, including the four Idaho defendants, to travel to a site nearly five miles away from his ranch where federal agents from the BLM and National Park Service had corralled nearly 400 head of his cattle.
One group of the followers, led by Bundy, distracted agents at the site’s main entrance by threatening to enter while a larger group of around 200 followers, led by Bundy’s son Ammon Bundy, 40, of Emmett, entered the site through a creek bed, the indictment states.
After seeing Ammon Bundy and his followers enter the site, federal agents attempted to stop them. The indictment alleges that several of Ammon Bundy’s followers brandished weapons at the agents while some took sniping positions on elevated ground and behind concrete barriers on nearby Interstate 15.
The men outnumbered the federal agents four to one, forcing them to stand down and relinquish the cattle. The indictment alleges that Ammon Bundy’s followers also had children and innocent bystanders that could have been injured or killed had a firefight ensued. Shortly after the incident, Cliven Bundy and his followers organized armed patrols near his ranch and continued to graze cattle on federal lands illegally up to the date of Cliven Bundy’s arrest in Portland, Ore., on Feb. 10.
A March 3 federal court filing by U.S. Attorney Justin D. Whatcott calls Cliven Bundy’s ranching operation “unconventional if not bizarre.” The filing claims Bundy lets his cattle roam freely on public lands, does not vaccinate them or control their breeding, declines to feed the cattle during the off season when food supply in the desert is scarce and does not know where or how many head he has at any given time.
The 14 new defendants all face the same federal charges: one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, and at least one count of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction of the due administration of justice, interference with interstate commerce by extortion and interstate travel in aid of extortion.
The indictment also alleges five counts of criminal forfeiture, which upon conviction would require forfeiture of property derived from the proceeds of the crimes totaling at least $3 million, as well as the firearms and ammunition possessed and used in the alleged assault.
If convicted, each of the 19 defendants faces up to life in prison and $1.7 million in fines.
Hailey resident Parker and Challis resident Drexler both have a history of gun-related offenses in Idaho.
Parker has a criminal record that includes a misdemeanor controlled substance conviction in 2002, a misdemeanor exhibition or use of a deadly weapon charge in 2008 and a misdemeanor DUI conviction in 2011. Drexler’s record shows misdemeanor convictions for DUI, contempt of court for failure to pay fines in 1993, discharging a firearm in city limits in 1995 and disturbing the peace in 1997.
Stewart’s record includes a single misdemeanor conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia in 2000. But federal court filings allege that Stewart’s “actions on April 12, , betrayed his desire and willingness to kill cops.”
Engel’s record does not show any criminal convictions in Idaho.
Federal court filings claim Parker, Stewart and Drexler drove to Bundy’s ranch from Idaho on April 11, 2014, bringing with them assault rifles, handguns and ammunition. During the April 12, 2014, standoff, Parker and Drexler are alleged to have taken prone sniping positions on Interstate 15 while Stewart acted as a spotter for them.
The Idaho Statesman reported that since the 2014 standoff, Parker has been involved in several other armed confrontations with federal agents, including an April 2015 standoff between miners and BLM agents in Grants Pass, Ore., and a protest in Lincoln, Mont., four months later. Parker is alleged to have set up an armed checkpoint on public lands to prevent U.S. Forest Service agents from enacting regulation of the White Hope Mine near Lincoln.
Parker works as an electrician in Hailey, the Statesman reported, and is vice-president of Three Percent of Idaho, an armed group that calls itself “America’s insurance policy” against tyranny and corruption. A spokesperson for Three Percent of Idaho could not be reached for comment by press deadline Tuesday.
According to the National Victim and Notification Everyday service, Parker, Stewart and Drexler are being held in Ada County Jail pending their court proceedings. Engel is being detained in Kootenai County Jail in Coeur d’Alene.