Booby-trapped? 2nd auction planned for properties of tax militants in standoff with marshals

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Federal officials are trying once more to sell properties formerly owned by a pair of tax militants that include a 100-acre parcel that might be booby-trapped.

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The first auction 13 months ago of the properties seized from Ed and Elaine Brown failed to field any bidders, in part because potential buyers couldn't tour the 100 acres around their fortress-like home in Plainfield. A second auction is planned for October.

The towns of Plainfield and Lebanon, where Elaine Brown's former dental office is located, are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes and interest.

The Browns are now in their 70s. They were sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion and staged a nine-month standoff in 2007 with U.S. marshals who came to take them into custody.

Both are serving sentences of more than 30 years in prison.

Deputy U.S. Marshall Brenda Mikelson, who ran the first auction, said Roger Sweeney of the Internal Revenue Service's Property Appraisal and Liquidation Specialists is in charge of the second auction. He didn't return several calls seeking comment.

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The division specializes in liquidating seized property nationwide. Officials say this tactic will promote the properties to a broader audience.

The conditions, laid out in a recent court order, say successful bidders will have 45 days to arrange financing this time, up from seven. The minimum bids for both properties have been reduced by half — $125,000 for the compound and $250,000 for the office.

It remains to be seen whether prospective bidders will be allowed around the home beforehand. Concerns that booby traps and explosives may be buried on the densely wooded property kept it off-limits. Marshals also were concerned that Brown sympathizers, including Randy Weaver of the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, would flock to the property if it's showcased.

During his trial in 2009, Ed Brown testified that explosives in the woods were there to scare intruders, not hurt them. But in a radio interview during the standoff, he said if authorities came to kill or arrest him, "the chief of police in this town, the sheriff, the sheriff himself will die. This is war now, folks."

Attorney Shawn Tanguay represents Lebanon, which is owed more than $324,000 in back taxes and interest. He said "there's cause for optimism" about the likely success of a second auction. "They've cleaned up the Lebanon property quite a bit."

In Plainfield, Town Manager Steve Halleran said the $196,000 in back taxes and interest amounts to half the delinquent taxes owed to the town of about 2,400 people. Plainfield's annual budget is about $2 million.

"We're becoming more frustrated than less with our federal government," Halleran said. "The property's not improving. "