Cliven Bundy makes initial federal court appearance in Vegas

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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 8:52 PM
Cliven Bundy makes initial federal court appearance in Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The renegade rancher at the center of a states'-versus-federal rights fight made his first appearance in custody before a U.S. judge in Las Vegas on Friday, but wasn't asked to enter a plea.

Similar federal court hearings were held in Idaho and Utah, a day after authorities rounded up 12 people in five states, raising to 19 the number accused of inciting and leading an armed insurrection in April 2014 to stop a roundup of cows from public land near Cliven Bundy's ranch.

Bundy, 69, stood with a deputy federal public defender at his side as he heard the 16 charges against him including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer, obstruction of justice, interference with interstate commerce by extortion and several firearms charges.

Asked by the judge if he could afford to hire an attorney, Bundy said he hadn't had a chance to talk with anyone about that.

He was returned in custody in recent days to Nevada from Oregon, where he'd been held following his arrest Feb. 10 as he arrived at Portland International Airport to visit two of his sons jailed during the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Hoffman said Bundy would remain in custody until at least next Thursday. The time will let him hire a lawyer or file revised financial disclosure forms.

The judge expressed doubt about whether a report that Bundy filed in Oregon qualifies him for a lawyer at federal expense.

"I don't think it is entirely complete, from what I know about this case," he said.

Bundy has a 160-acre ranch and melon farm in Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. A descendant of Mormon settlers who heads a family of 14 children and more than 50 grandchildren, he claims homestead rights and refuses to acknowledge federal authority over arid Virgin River valley rangeland around his property.

He has represented himself in previous local, state and federal legal proceedings.

The 2014 showdown came after federal land managers obtained federal court orders to remove Bundy cows from environmentally fragile public land in the scenic and rugged Gold Butte area. The area is pocked with scrub brush, mesquite, cheat grass and yucca.

Federal agents and contract cowboys herding cattle toward a corral were stopped by a picket line of self-styled militia perched on a high Interstate 15 bridge, pointing military-style AR-15 and AK-47 weapons at them.

Officials said at the time that Bundy owed more than $1.1 million in fees and penalties for grazing illegally for about 20 years. A more recent accounting hasn't been made public.

The battle with the federal Bureau of Land Management made Bundy and several of his adult sons well-known as outspoken advocates for states' rights.

The dispute predates statehood in some places, and calls for action have gotten louder as federal agencies designate protected areas for endangered species and set aside tracts for mining, wind farms and natural gas exploration.

The latest wave has roots in the Sagebrush Rebellion, which began more than 40 years ago over grazing rights in Nevada.

The arrests on Thursday of 12 alleged co-conspirators in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma and New Hampshire came after a federal grand jury in Las Vegas expanded an indictment filed Feb. 11 against Bundy.

It also named Bundy sons Ammon, Ryan, Melvin and David Bundy, and four other men already in federal custody following the end of the 41-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. They are Ryan Payne of Montana, Peter Santilli Jr. of Cincinnati, and Brian Cavalier and Blaine Cooper, both of Arizona.

"They're just rounding up all of us," said Susan Hardy, a Bundy relative from Mesquite, Nevada, who attended David Bundy's court appearance in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

"We're just standing for America. We're standing for our freedom," she said.

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Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.