DETROIT — The videos could have been mistaken for footage taken from an army training session. There were camouflage figures, outfitted in military-like clothing and backpacks, stalking an invisible enemy, crawling on their bellies through woodlands, and firing rifle and handguns at unknown objects in the distance.
It was these videos — found on a militia Web site — that opened the door to the 20-month FBI investigation into activities of the Hutaree, Special Agent Leslie Larsen testified Tuesday at the conspiracy trial of seven Hutaree members in U.S. District Court, Detroit.
Agent Larsen, who at the time was monitoring activities of militias in Michigan, said she learned about the Hutaree members from their Web site in August, 2008. She said military-like activity on videos that one could watch on the Web page set it apart from other militia groups, especially the weapons the participants were using.
“In the shooting in and around the vehicles, the firing appeared to be automatic in nature. It appeared to be a large amount of bullets coming out of the weapons,” she said in response to questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheldon Light.
While faces of the participants were covered in three videos, Agent Larsen said she identified David Stone, 44, and his sons, Joshua Stone, 23, and David Stone, Jr., in a fourth video, which was shown to the court during the trial.
Agent Larsen was the first witness to testify in the trial of the Hutaree members who are accused of conspiring to kill a police officer and then attack law enforcement in the funeral procession in an attempt to trigger an uprising against the government.
In addition to Mr. Stone and his sons, also charged in the conspiracy are his wife, Tina Stone, of Clayton, Mich.; Michael Meeks, 40, of Manchester, Mich.; Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind.; and Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky.
They are charged with conspiracy to commit sedition, or rebellion, firearms offenses, and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, a crime that carries a sentence of life in prison. Agent Larsen testified that a paid confidential informant who had been previously used by the FBI to collect information about militia groups in Michigan met in August, 2008, with David Stone and his son, Joshua, who the government has said were the Hutaree leaders, at an Ann Arbor restaurant.
She said the informant, Dan Murray, infiltrated the group and over the next 17 months trained and camped with Hutaree members at David and Tina Stone’s home near Clayton in Lenawee County. He also attended other training sessions and meetings at other remote locations in Washtenaw County’s Manchester Township and near North Adams in Hillsdale County, she said.
Over the course of the investigation that ended in late March, 2010, when the defendants and two others were arrested during raids in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, the FBI obtained 200 to 250 hours of audio or video recordings of discussions, Agent Larsen said.
Mr. Murray, she said, was often wired with devices to record audio and video of his conversations with people in the militia group and she and other agents monitored the discussions as part of the investigation. According to testimony, the FBI paid the informant $30,677 in cash from August, 2008, to January, 2010, for the 300 to 400 hours of undercover services he provided and to cover his expenses, which included mileage, cell phone, and camping equipment.
To assist in the investigation, undercover FBI agent Steven Haug was planted into the Hutaree in February, 2009, after Mr. Murray introduced him to David Stone and Joshua Stone. He also infiltrated training sessions and meetings in southeast Michigan of militia members, Agent Larsen said.
She testified that the FBI established a cover identity for Mr. Haug that lead Hutaree members to believe he lived in New Jersey and worked as a truck driver for a company that transported items to flea markets in Michigan.
The setup for the agent, who was known to Hutaree members as “Steven Clark” included renting a warehouse in Ann Arbor to add legitimacy to his cover that he worked for an out-of-town firm, she said. Most of the defendants were arrested in the building March 27, 2010, after they were told by the agent that Mr. Murray had died and he wanted to hold a memorial for him there.
Earlier on Tuesday, defense attorneys for Joshua Stone, Mrs. Stone, and Mr. Piatek gave opening statements to jurors.
Mr. Stone’s attorney, Jay Thomas, said in his remarks to rebut prosecution statements given Monday that facts will be manipulated to give a distorted view of the truth.
The trial, which is being held before Judge Victoria Roberts, will continue Wednesday when Agent Larsen will return to the witness stand. It is expected to last six to eight weeks.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.