U.S. marshals posing as supporters carried out the arrests of tax evaders Ed and Elaine Brown, officials said Friday.
The undercover officers were invited in by the Browns on Thursday evening, and before the couple realized they weren’t supporters, they were already under arrest.
“Ultimately, this open-door policy that they seemed to have, which allowed the Browns to have some supporters bring them supplies, welcome followers and even host a picnic — this proved to be their undoing,” U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier said. “They invited us in. We escorted them out.”
The Browns have been in a standoff with authorities since their sentencing in April on tax evasion charges. They insisted that there’s no law forcing them to pay taxes and refused to surrender — saying they would not come out alive.
Monier said that the Browns were arrested at about 7:45 p.m. The Browns were the only ones inside the house.
During a security sweep of the house, numerous weapons, ammunition and explosive devices were found, Monier said. There were also booby traps found on the property, Monier said, and it remains an active crime scene.
“We had no indication that the Browns intended to voluntarily surrender, so we had to move forward with an operation that promised the safest possible outcome. That day was today,” Monier said in a news release Thursday.
Monier said that officials have seen no trouble from other supporters of the Browns, but he warned that anyone who thinks about getting involved or helping them now could face charges.
The Browns will likely face additional charges related to the weapons found in the house, Monier said. 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.
Monier would not reveal where the Browns are, saying only that they were being transferred to a federal prison. He said their location would be announced once they arrive.
Expert observers had praised the authorities’ hands-off approach, but patience wore thin for 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. But some supporters lost favor with the Browns.
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.
Monier said in the news release that since those arrests, “there had been a dip in the number of visitors to the house.”
Earlier this year, officials cut power and telephone service in an effort to ratchet up 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.
Neighbors Relieved By Peaceful Resolution
Plainfield residents said they were relieved that the couple was arrested peacefully, with no shots fired or injuries.
Neighbors said their lives had been turned upside down with protesters and supporters at one end of their street and constant police surveillance. Residents said that even though they were used to flashing police lights, they knew that something was different when they saw them Thursday night.
“There was a lot of traffic last night — 10 police cars at a time, maybe 40 altogether going that way,” neighbor David Grobe said. “It made me think something was going on.”
“When I saw the federal cars, I said to (my wife), ‘Something’s up,'” neighbor Lawrence Aldrich said.
Even though they saw evidence of the arrest of Ed and Elaine Brown, neighbors said they didn’t hear anything — no shots, no screams. Neighbor Phyllis Aldrich said that she hoped whatever was going on, it would end with handcuffs instead of body bags.
“People get away with murder, so why should they get killed over tax evasion?” she said.
Residents learned of the peaceful arrest Friday morning on the news.
“I’m so glad no shots were fired,” Grobe said. “It’s a miracle. I never would have expected it to end that well.”
A neighbor who asked not to be identified said that the last few months living near the Browns were difficult.
“The awareness of strangers here — it just was not a normal situation for us,” she said.
Residents said they were aware that the property was booby-trapped and that Ed Brown had threatened members of law enforcement. Phyllis Aldrich wondered how the situation had gotten to this point.
“I wondered why they’d give up everything for this,” she said. “They gave up an awful lot.”
The Browns’ neighbors all agreed that the couple were nice people. They waved, stopped to chat and would help neighbors with projects. But none of the neighbors said they supported their beliefs or behavior. Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc .