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Freemen Chief Gets 22 Years

The kingpin of the Montana Freemen, Leroy Schweitzer, carried his scorn for the United States government to the end Tuesday, refusing to enter the courtroom as a federal judge sentenced him to what his lawyer said amounted to a life sentence.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour sentenced Schweitzer, 61, to 22 1/2 years in prison for the 25 counts of which he had been convicted.

The judge did not impose the maximum sentence, which could have kept Schweitzer in prison 32 years.

The total included 12 1/2 years for the massive hot-check scheme the Freemen conducted and a variety of other offenses, and a mandatory 10-year sentence for use of a firearm in commission of a felony.

Schweitzer also must pay $39,687 in restitution and will be on supervised release for five years after his release from prison.

Coughenour specified that the sentence imposed Tuesday is in addition to the time Schweitzer already has served since he was captured March 25, 1996.

Also sentenced Tuesday were Rodney O. Skurdal, 46, of Roundup, Mont.; Dale M. Jacobi, 57, of Thompson Falls, Mont.; Daniel Petersen Jr., 56, of Winnett, Mont.; and Agnes Stanton, 56, of Brusett, Mont.

The four men, like most of the Freemen, refused to attend their trials last spring and fall, declaring the federal government had no authority over them.

Petersen, probably the No. 2 man in the Freeman hierarchy, was sentenced to 15 years -- 10 years for his 21-count conviction, plus five years for use of a weapon. He also must pay restitution of $39,845.

Skurdal also drew 15 years total, 10 years for his five counts and five years for use of a weapon.

Jacobi drew eight years and nine months for his 13-count conviction, plus five years for use of a weapon.

Mrs. Stanton, received no additional prison time, but Coughenour placed her on five years' supervised release.

Coughenour noted from the bench that in the federal courts, sentences are "real time," and convicts must serve virtually the entire sentence with little or no time off for good behavior.

Schweitzer and most of his fellow defendants watched and listened by television from a holding cell in the courthouse but refused to enter the courtroom, as they have throughout their trials.

Coughenour said he would not have marshals bring them in forcibly, in consideration of the safety of the defendants and the marshals.

Schweitzer, of Belgrade, Mont., was convicted of 25 counts, including conspiracy, bank fraud, threatening a federal judge, mail fraud, wire fraud, illegal possession of firearms, interstate transportation of stolen property, and participating in the armed robbery of an ABC news crew that was trying to do a news story on the Freemen.

Prosecutors described the defendants' plot as a massive assault on the nation's banking system. They and their followers issued thousands of bogus checks totaling billions of dollars, based on fradulent liens against banks, public officials and other individuals.

About two dozen of the group held an army of FBI agents at bay on the Montana plains for 81 days in 1995, but surrendered without a shot being fired.

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