LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two defendants became the first to plead guilty Thursday to federal charges in an armed confrontation with U.S. officials over grazing rights near cattleman and open-range advocate Cliven Bundy's ranch in Nevada.
Gerald "Jerry" DeLemus and Blaine Cooper each admitted to conspiring with others who engaged in a tense gunpoint standoff with federal Bureau of Land Management agents in April 2014 near Bundy's property about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Both told U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro they weren't physically present for the standoff.
But they acknowledged interfering with the execution of federal court orders by recruiting and organizing armed gunmen to support Bundy and sons Ammon, Ryan, Mel and Dave Bundy in efforts to prevent the roundup of Bundy cattle from the scenic Gold Butte area.
Their plea deals call for sentences of six years in federal prison, although their defense attorneys can seek leniency at sentencing Dec. 1. Each also could be fined up to $500,000 and be subject to up to three years of government supervision after prison.
Cooper, 37, from Humboldt, Arizona, also pleaded guilty to assault on a federal officer.
DeLemus, 61, of Rochester, New Hampshire, arrived in Nevada hours after the confrontation started. His second felony plea was to an interstate extortion charge, admitting he drove cross-country with guns with an intent to display "force and aggression" to stop the roundup.
DeLemus, a former U.S. Marine, spent weeks afterward living in a tent and organizing armed patrols near the Bundy ranch outside Bunkerville.
DeLemus was also politically active at home in New Hampshire, where his wife, Susan DeLemus, is a Republican state assemblywoman. He stopped several times Thursday to confer with his attorney while entering his guilty pleas.
"I don't know that I threatened anyone," DeLemus told the judge at one point, "but I made public statements hoping it would end peacefully."
Prosecutors characterized DeLemus and Cooper as "mid-level organizers" and leaders of the conspiracy to prevent federal agents and contract cowboys from rounding up Bundy cattle that federal officials said were trespassing on public land.
"Federal law enforcement officers must be able to engage in their official duties, including executing federal court orders, without fear of assault or losing their lives," U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said in a statement after the pleas.
DeLemus and Cooper became the first among 19 defendants to take plea deals in the case in Las Vegas.
Trial for some of the remaining 17 defendants is scheduled to begin Feb. 2 on charges including threatening a federal officer, carrying a firearm in a crime of violence and obstruction.
Seven defendants in the Nevada case, including Cooper and Bundy's sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are also among 26 people charged in Portland, Oregon, in connection with a 41-day occupation of a wildlife refuge earlier this year.
Eleven people have taken plea deals in the Oregon case, including Cooper. The Oregon trial is scheduled to begin next month.