Former Freemen leader found dead in prison cell

AP News
Posted: Sep 20, 2011 8:42 PM
Former Freemen leader found dead in prison cell

The former head of the Montana Freemen, an anti-government separatist group that held the FBI at bay for 81 days in 1996, has been found dead in his cell at the federal Supermax prison in southern Colorado.

LeRoy Schweitzer, 73, was found unresponsive in his cell Tuesday and appears to have died of natural causes, The Denver Post reported ( A Federal Correctional Complex advisory announcing the death says an autopsy will be performed.

Schweitzer was a founder and leader of the small, heavily armed Freemen group. His arrest in 1996 prompted 16 group members to barricade themselves in a 960-acre ranch compound in Jordan, Mont., for 81 days. The standoff with the FBI ended without a shot fired.

Schweitzer was a former owner of a crop-dusting business and was a partner in a real estate company when he organized the militia group. The Freemen didn't recognize the federal government, and they attempted to curdle the nation's banking industry by writing billions of dollars' worth of bad checks that came to be known as "Schweitzer checks."

Schweitzer was later convicted on 25 counts, including conspiracy, bank fraud, threatening a federal judge, illegal possession of firearms and participating in the armed robbery of an ABC-TV crew covering the Freemen.

At his sentencing in 1997, Schweitzer stood gagged, chained and handcuffed. When U.S. marshals lowered his gag, Schweitzer claimed he was a citizen of "the country of Montana," not the United States.

"I will not willingly participate in this fraud," he said.

Schweitzer had been serving his sentence in Colorado since 2006. Colorado's Supermax prison _ short for "super-maximum security" _ holds some of the country's most notorious criminals. They include Unabomber Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski and Eric Robert Rudolph, who bombed a park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Schweitzer is a cousin of current Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. But in a biography about the governor written by Greg Lemon and published in 2008, Brian Schweitzer shrugs off their connection.

"I've got about two thousand relatives in Montana," the governor says. "I think I have fifty first cousins or more."