CONCORD, N.H. – U.S. marshals posing as supporters arrested convicted tax-evaders Ed and Elaine Brown at their rural, fortress-like home, the head marshal said Friday.
"They invited us in, and we escorted them out," U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier said, releasing the first details of Thursday night's arrests.
A small team of marshals pulled off the ruse, arresting the Browns without incident on the front porch of their Plainfield home in west-central New Hampshire, Monier said.
The arrests ended a months-long standoff that began in January, when Brown, 65, a retired exterminator, and his dentist wife, 67, walked out of their federal trial in Concord. She returned to the trial but soon joined her husband at home, where they vowed to resist violently if authorities tried to arrest them.
"We either walk out of here free or we die," Ed Brown said.
At a news conference, Monier said officials found booby traps in the woods on the 100-plus-acre property and weapons, ammunition and homemade bombs inside and outside the house. He said more charges are likely.
"By their continuing actions, allegedly, to obstruct justice, to encourage others to assist them to obstruct justice, by making threats toward law enforcement and other governmental officials, they have turned this into more than a tax case," Monier said.
The Browns were turned over to federal corrections officials to serve prison terms of 63 months. They were convicted in January of scheming to avoid federal income taxes by hiding $1.9 million of income between 1996 and 2003 and were sentenced in April.
The couple claims the federal income tax is not legitimate. Their argument — repeatedly rejected by courts — is that no law authorizes the federal income tax and that the 1913 constitutional amendment permitting it was never properly ratified.
Experts had praised authorities' hands-off approach before the surprise arrests, but patience had worn thin among some of Plainfield's 2,400 residents. During the summer, town selectmen asked Monier to stop the influx of militiamen and other anti-government groups to the Browns' home and to bring the couple to justice.
Last month, authorities arrested four men accused of helping obstruct justice in the Browns' case. Charges ranged from accessory after the fact to possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Authorities also blocked access to a fundraising event on the Browns' property.
Earlier this year, officials cut power and telephone service in an effort to increase pressure on the couple.
The home is on an isolated dirt road and includes a turret that offers a 360-degree view of the property and a driveway that had sometimes been barricaded with sport utility vehicles.
Heavily armed police surrounded the home in June while they seized commercial property the couple owned in a neighboring town. SWAT teams, military and explosives vehicles marshaled in the tiny town and sparked rumors of a raid.
Monier said then the gathered forces were only for surveillance. On Friday, he would not discuss details of the operation, including the exact number of deputy marshals involved, what they said to the Browns or how the couple reacted.
"Last evening, the Browns invited yet another what they thought were like-minded individuals to their home. Unfortunately for them, the supporters actually turned out to be deputy U.S. marshals," he said. "By the time Ed and Elaine Brown realized this, they were in custody. Ultimately, this open-door policy they seemed to have, which allowed the Browns to have some supporters bring them supplies, welcome followers, even host a picnic — this proved to be their undoing."
The arrests "will be a relief to everyone in the community," said state Agriculture Commissioner Stephen Taylor, a Plainfield resident. "This has been such a distraction to everybody."
A message left for Elaine Brown's son, David Hatch-Bernier of Worcester, Mass., was not returned.
Supporters of the Browns called them leaders who were trying to protect their freedom.
"In many ways this was like a stab in the heart," said Mike Chambers, a talk show host on Republic Broadcasting Network, an Internet-based radio program based in Round Rock, Texas, that has defended the Browns in the past.
On another Web site, supporter David Ridley of Manchester said Brown supporters should take part in "peaceable protests" at places such as federal court.