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March 17, 1999
Montana Freemen Leaders Sentenced
Filed at 11:55 a.m. EST
By The Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Seven leaders of the anti-government Montana Freemen
were sentenced to stiff prison terms for conspiring against the nation's banking system,
though a judge spared two of the defendants' wives from more jail time.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ordered ringleader LeRoy Schweitzer to 22 1/2
years behind bars Tuesday, hoping to send ``a loud and clear message to those who
pass this hatred and ugliness around.''
Schweitzer's court-appointed lawyer, federal defender Tony Gallagher, said the ruling
amounted to a life sentence for his 61-year-old client.
U.S. Attorney Sherry Scheel Matteucci said she had mixed feelings about some of the
sentences, but termed them ``very, very significant'' and said she was satisfied overall.
Schweitzer and five other defendants refused to enter the courtroom, continuing to
demonstrate their scorn for the government. They were able to watch the proceedings
via TV from a holding cell after Coughenour declined to have marshals bring them in by
Nine Freemen were convicted in two trials last year. They and their followers were
accused of trying to undermine the nation's banking system by issuing thousands of
bogus checks totaling billions of dollars.
``What we are talking about is a calculated and organized program to undermine the
banking system of this country and to encourage other, more ignorant people to violate
the law,'' Coughenour said.
About two dozen members of the anti-government group, living on a farm on the plains
of Montana, held FBI agents at bay for 81 days in 1995 before surrendering without a
shot being fired.
Schweitzer was convicted on 25 counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, threatening a federal
judge, illegal possession of firearms and participating in the armed robbery of an
ABC-TV crew covering the Freemen.
The judge sentenced Daniel Petersen Jr., probably the No. 2 man in the Freeman
hierarchy, to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution of $39,845.
Rodney O. Skurdal, 46; and John P. McGuire, 61, were also sentenced to 15 years. Dale
M. Jacobi, 57, a former Canadian police officer, received 13 years; Richard Clark, 12
years; and William Stanton, three years.
Agnes Stanton, Stanton's wife, and Cherlyn Petersen, Petersen's wife, were sentenced
to time served and released.
In addition to maintaining they are not subject to federal or state laws, the Freemen
also claimed that God intended white people to rule the earth, that blacks are animals
and Jews are descendants of Satan.