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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Crime & Courts

Hillsborough survivalist to take plea deal on weapons charges

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Published:   |   Updated: August 20, 2014 at 08:01 PM

Martin Winters, a survivalist who authorities say fled from an FBI agent in June, is ready to admit his guilt to federal weapons charges.

Winters has signed an agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to making destructive devices and possession of unregistered destructive device, two of the four weapons charges in an indictment handed up in June. Each charge carries a maximum possible prison term of 10 years, but Winters is likely to receive less under the terms of the plea agreement, which calls for the other two charges to be dismissed.

The FBI says Winters, 55, is the leader of a Valrico-based group called the River Otter Preppers. Four other members of the group have already pleaded guilty to federal offenses and a fifth has signed an agreement to plead guilty.

As part of his plea agreement, Winters will forfeit his right to 30 semi-automatic AR-15 type rifles.

The FBI has detailed in court documents elaborate preparations authorities say Winters’ group of so-called doomsday preppers engaged in getting ready for the end of the world and the expected invasion by government agents.

They had stashed barrels of food and guns underground, according to an FBI affidavit, and installed booby traps designed to ensnare government agents.

Winters showed an undercover agent a map and said that members of his group would be stationed along the river during an apocalyptic event to look out for government boats, the affidavit states. He showed more maps of trails his followers would use to protect their property or repel government agents. He planned to put “bullet things” and “rod holders” in trees to be used against government agents.

He planned to barricade his door, release propane gas and shoot at agents with pistols. He would run to other covered positions in his home and shoot some more. When the house filled with propane, it would catch fire.

He planned his last stand at another location on his property, where he would shoot and kill the agents running from the gas or fire.

His booby traps would shoot wires with fish hooks out of pressurized pipes. The pipes would be mounted on the eaves of his house, and Winters planned to shoot the agents who became entangled on the hooks.

The hooks, Winters said, would hang at crotch level to entangle the government agents, according to the affidavit.

According to Winters’ plea agreement, an FBI undercover agent went to Winters’ house in Lithia on Oct. 14 to buy five rod holders, legally considered destructive devices. The sale had been arranged by another group member, Michael Keith Bonta, who made the devices in Winters’ workshop on the property behind the house.

On Jan. 14, Winters met with the undercover agent and took one of the devices apart and explained how it was made and how it worked, according to the court document, which describes the device as a weapon that expels a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant. Bonta later told investigators he had made about 20 of the devices at Winters’ direction.

Bonta has signed a separate plea agreement and is scheduled to enter his guilty plea on Sept. 2.

Four others - James Bruce Beebe, Desiree Nikkole Beebe, Jason Michael Swain and Nicholas Ryan Hall - pleaded guilty on Aug. 15. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 31.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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