A federal grand jury in Nevada indicted Cliven Bundy and four others Wednesday on 16 charges related to an armed standoff near his ranch in 2014 over unpaid grazing fees.
The 69-year-old Nevada rancher was arrested Feb. 10 in Portland, Ore., where his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are jailed and accused of organizing the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. In the takeover, which lasted nearly six weeks, they had demanded that public lands be turned over to locals and that two area ranchers serving sentences for arson be freed.
Ammon Bundy, of Idaho, Ryan Bundy, of Nevada, Ryan Payne, of Montana, and Peter Santilli of Ohio, were also indicted by the Nevada grand jury Wednesday.
The charges against them and Cliven Bundy include: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, weapon use and possession, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction, extortion to interfere with commerce, and interstate travel in aid of extortion.
"This indictment sends a resounding message to those who wish to participate in violent acts that our resolve to pursue them and enforce the law remains unwavering," Nevada FBI Special Agent in Charge Laura Bucheit said in a written statement.
Cliven Bundy is accused of leading "a massive armed assault" of 200 followers to stop federal law agents who were rounding up about 400 of Bundy's cattle on federal lands in April 2014, according to documents filed by U.S. attorneys Wednesday.
Upon learning of the roundup, Bundy said he was "ready to do battle," with the Bureau of Land Management and that he would "do whatever it takes" to protect his property, according to documents.
The others allegedly organized and recruited followers and acted as leaders in the incident.
Still in Oregon custody
Federal officials have said Bundy unlawfully allowed his cattle to graze on federal public lands for more than 20 years, refusing to pay grazing fees and ignoring federal court orders in 1998 and in 2013 to remove his cows or have them removed by the government.
Court documents say on April 12, 2014, federal officials were outnumbered four to one by armed Bundy followers and wishing to avoid a firefight, diffused the situation by abandoning the cattle to Bundy.
"The rule of law has been reaffirmed with these charges," said U.S. Attorney Bogden. "Persons who use force and violence against federal law enforcement officers who are enforcing court orders, and nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others, will be brought to justice."
Ammon Bundy's lawyer, Mike Arnold, told The Oregonian Wednesday evening he had anticipated the indictments but declined comment on the specific charges, saying he hadn't yet read them.
"It's important for the public to remember that there is a constitutional presumption of innocence in America,"' Arnold said in an email to The Oregonian. "A government charge is proof of nothing. That's what courts and trials are for."
Five counts of criminal forfeiture are also included in the indictment which would require the forfeiture of property derived from the proceeds of the crimes totaling at least $3 million US, as well as the firearms and ammunition possessed and used on April 12, 2014.
Federal authorities said two years ago that Bundy owed more than $1.1 million in fees and penalties for letting cows graze illegally for decades on public land near his ranch. A Bureau of Land Management spokesman said last week an updated accounting has not been made.
Cliven Bundy and the other defendants are currently in custody in Oregon. Arraignments on the charges have not yet been set.