Alaska News Nightly: May 8, 2012

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Militia Trials Continue In Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN & Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Portrayals of Peacemaker’s militia members as dangerous men plotting to kill federal employees were juxtaposed with characterizations of the men as hapless big mouths who exaggerated a lot but were harmless– during this morning’s opening statements in day two of the Schaeffer Cox, Lonnie Vernon and Barney Coleman federal trial in Anchorage.

Prosecutor Yvonne Lamoureux said Peacemaker’s leader Schaeffer Cox believed federal agents were plotting to kill his family and take down the militia. She described a dry erase board seized from his home that detailed plans for killing federal agents. She quoted Cox as saying to a state trooper – “We have you outmanned, out gunned and can have you dead in one night.” She said the men wanted to buy grenades from Drop Zone Security, silencers and modified arms to make them automatics. They developed a two- for-one killing plan she said, if a militia member were killed, they would kill two troopers or two judges. She said Coleman Barney had $5,000 on him when he was arrested while allegedly attempting to buy guns, silencers and grenades.

Lamoureux said prosecutors have 100 hours of recordings and planned to call 70 witnesses and introduce 700 pieces of evidence.

Defense attorney Nelson Traverso, representing Cox, said testimony would show Cox was not attempting to overthrow the government, but instead was simply an agitator for civil liberties, a father of two who believed the government would collapse and the militia had to be prepared to defend people. Traverso said Cox’s statement to the trooper that the militia could have them dead in one night, was “distasteful, but within his right to free speech.”

Timothy Dooley represents Coleman Barney and in his remarks attempted to distance Barney from Cox, saying Barney was a Mormon, married with five children and a successful electrical business. Dooley said Barney’s Mormon teachings instruct to prepare for end days. He said Barney had $5,000 in cash that day to cover a check, not buy weapons. Dooley raised the 1992 shooting at Ruby Ridge which raised an objection from the prosecution, Judge Bryan sustained it, instructing Dooley to move on. Dooley closed by saying the federal government was overreaching.

Attorney M.J. Haden said her client Lonnie Vernon just had poor taste in the people he hung out with. She said he was rough around the edges, a loud mouth and a blowhard who told tall tales to try to fit in. But she said a conspiracy is an agreement and there wasn’t one in place to buy weapons or commit murder.

After the statements, prosecutor Steven Skrocki called their first witness, FBI agent Michael Thoreson who oversaw the arrests of first Lonnie and Karen Vernon and about an hour later Schaeffer Cox and Coleman Barney in Fairbanks in March of 2011. Prosecutors entered inert grenades, 22 caliber hand guns equipped with silencers and extra clips into evidence, saying these were the weapons the militia members had allegedly attempted to buy from FBI source JR Olson when they were arrested. The trial continues tomorrow.

The men consider themselves sovereign citizens, above state and federal law.  Washington D.C. based writer J.J. MacNab is working on a book about the sovereign citizen’s movement, and tracks court cases involving them across the country.  McNabb says the difference between ideas and actions is always central.

Schaeffer Cox was facing a weapons charge, and Lonnie Vernon owed back federal taxes, when they and fellow militia member Coleman Barney supposedly hatched a plan to retaliate against court and law enforcement officials.  They were arrested in March 2011, charged with planning violence and stockpiling illegal weapons to carry it out.  MacNab says militia defendants tend not to fare well in court.

MacNab says federal prosecutors pursue cases that are easiest to win, and the Fairbanks militia case is interesting because none of the men have pleaded guilty.

The Fairbanks militia case has gotten a lot of press, but MacNab says the most damaging evidence against the accused has likely been held for the courtroom.

The government’s case is built on recordings made by informants, who infiltrated the group, and MacNab says that can be contentious.

MacNab says she’s keeping special eye on the Fairbanks militia case because Schaeffer Cox has charisma that could make him a leader of the broader sovereign citizen’s movement.  She says the movement is in the midst of its latest outgrowth, with an estimated 300,000 adherents in the U.S., a blossoming that encompasses a broad spectrum of people angry with government. The trial continues tomorrow.

Tribes Fear Road Maintenance Money Won’t Be Distributed Equally

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

Lawmakers held their first meeting in Washington DC Tuesday to decide how to pay for the nation’s roads, bridges and highways for the next few years. Money for tribal roads could increase, but some fear the money won’t be distributed equally to the state’s tribes.

Bill Allows Use Of Naturally Occurring Asbestos

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell last week signed a bill setting standards that allow naturally occurring asbestos to be extracted and used in construction projects around the state.  It also protects owners of contaminated gravel, construction companies, landowners, workers and communities from any legal responsibility if health hazards develop.

Searchers Find Missing Teenage Hiker

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

Searchers found a missing teenage girl on Prince of Wales Island Tuesday. Thirteen-year-old Makayla McRoberts was apparently uninjured. Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters got word shortly after noon.

APD Believes Missing Airman Victim Of Foul Play

The Associated Press

Anchorage police now believe an airman missing for three weeks was the victim of foul play.

Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker says detectives are releasing little information about what led them to that conclusion Tuesday.

Parker adds that the missing Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson airman, Clinton Reeves, appears to be an innocent victim.

Reeves was last heard from April 22.

Alaska-Based Soldier Killed In Afghanistan

The Associated Press

An Alaska-based soldier from California has been killed in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Alaska says in a release that 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Thomas Kent Fogarty of Alameda, Calif., died Sunday when the vehicle he was commanding hit a roadside bomb.

The Army says three other soldiers were wounded in the incident in Ahmad-Kheyl, Afghanistan.

All four are assigned to Fort Richardson.

Police, Troopers On Lookout For Two Men Who Escaped From Halfway House

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska State Troopers and Fairbanks police are on the lookout for two men who walked away from a privately operated halfway house in Ester over the past 10 days. The state corrections official who oversees the NorthStar Community Residential Center and seven other facilities says the public has little to fear from the escapees, who are serving time for lesser offenses. But a Fairbanks police spokesman says the escapees divert officers from more serious cases.

Processing Plant Planning On Running Despite Ferry Collision

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

Ocean Beauty Seafood still plans to run its Petersburg plant this summer despite this week’s ferry accident. According to Vice president of Marketing Tom Sunderland, the company hopes to make repairs in time for summer or find a way to work around the damage.

Former Head Of Whaling Commission Pleads Guilty

The Associated Press

The former executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission has pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and misapplication of $475,000 in commission money.

Maggie Ahmaogak entered the plea Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in Anchorage.

The 62-year-old Ahmaogak was head of the commission from 1990 to April 2007. Her husband, George Ahmaogak Sr., was elected North Slope Borough mayor five times but lost a re-election bid 12 days after she was indicted.

Federal prosecutors say Ahmaogak paid bills for plane tickets, groceries and doctors with money she misappropriated. They say she paid for gambling trips with a family member, bought three snowmachines and made a down payment on a Hummer.

Ahmaogak is scheduled to be sentenced July 23.

Author Investigates Exxon-Mobil In Book

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Two of Alaska’s three major oil and gas producers are highly visible, but the third one is not.  While BP and Conoco Phillips have large office buildings in Anchorage, Exxon-Mobil’s Alaska operations are run from an anonymous suite of offices in a mid-town building that has no sign bearing the company’s name.  The sign was taken down 23 years ago for security reasons when protests erupted there following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  It was never replaced.

The author of a new book about the company does not find that surprising at all. “New Yorker” writer Steve Coll says the corporate culture within Exxon-Mobil is all about minimizing risk and steadily making money.  The book  “Private Empire: Exxon-Mobil and American Power” opens with an account of the Alaska oil spill, which made the company the most hated in the nation, but, Coll says, also one of the most safety-oriented.

Coll paints a portrait of a company in which everything is done by the book and everybody plays by the same rules – a regimented company in which control is paramount.  And he says that control mania is probably why Exxon-Mobil has been reluctant to do business in Alaska.

Coll says even though Exxon-Mobil’s current chairman, Rex Tillerson, is cut from pretty much the same cloth as his predecessor, Lee Raymond, the company has begun to change.  It no longer opposes a carbon tax, for instance, as a way to deal with climate warming.  Also under Tillerson, Exxon is increasingly emphasizing natural gas as well as crude oil.  Gas accounts for about half of its recoverable reserves.

At the end of March, the company was able to add substantially to its gas reserves, when it quietly bought out Chevron’s 25 percent share of the un-developed Point Thomson field on the North Slope.  Two days after closing that deal, Exxon-Mobil settled a long-running dispute with the State of Alaska over whether its development plan for Point Thomson was moving ahead fast enough to prevent the state from taking the leases back.  Exxon-Mobil can now add 200 million barrels of natural gas condensate to its reserves – liquids it hopes to produce.  It can also add eight trillion cubic feet of gas that may get to market sometime in the future.  Coll’s book is full of examples of how important it is to Exxon-Mobil to be able to book new reserves to replace what it produces, but he says it’s questionable whether Point Thomson should count.

The Point Thomson gas is still considered stranded, because there is no pipeline to deliver it to market, but the fact that it is there and ready to be developed makes a big gas line a more attractive investment.  Steve Coll appeared on the public radio call-in show “Talk of Alaska” Tuesday morning.

Bethel Getting New Grocery Store, Movie Theater

Mark Arehart, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel Native Corporation had big news for its shareholders over the weekend when it announced it will partner with Omni Corporation to build a brand new Swanson’s grocery store and a two-screen movie theater in Bethel.  For the city and surrounding villages, the prospect of seeing a blockbuster on the big screen will be well worth the wait.