LAS VEGAS — Two defendants became the first on Thursday to plead guilty in Las Vegas to federal charges in an armed confrontation with U.S. officials over grazing rights near cattleman and open-range advocate Cliven Bundy’s ranch.
Gerald “Jerry” DeLemus and Blaine Cooper each admitted 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.
Each also pleaded guilty to another felony in the case.
Both said they weren’t physically present for the standoff. “I was calling people to participate,” Cooper told U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro.
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.
He told the judge he interfered with the execution of federal court orders by recruiting armed gunmen to display support for Bundy and sons Ammon, Ryan, Mel and Dave Bundy and stop the roundup of Bundy cattle from the scenic Gold Butte area.
DeLemus, 61, of Rochester, New Hampshire, also pleaded guilty to a felony alleging that when he drove cross-country with guns he intended to display “force and aggression” to stop the roundup.
DeLemus, a former U.S. Marine, arrived in Nevada hours after the standoff.
He spent weeks afterward living in a tent and organizing armed patrols near Bundy’s ranch outside Bunkerville. He said at the time the goal was to prevent government agents from returning to harm or arrest Bundy family members, and that if someone pointed a gun at him he would point his gun back.
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 authorities 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 Nevada case.
The government agreed to drop nine other felony charges against them.
Trial for some of the remaining 17 defendants is scheduled to begin Feb. 2 on charges also 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 sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are also among 26 people charged in Portland, Oregon, with conspiracy, weapon, theft and damaging government property counts stemming from a 41-day occupation of a wildlife refuge earlier this year.
Eleven people have taken plea deals in the Oregon case, including Cooper. He pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy and is expected to be sentenced to six months in prison, with credit for time served, and six months in a halfway house or home detention.
The pleas Thursday by DeLemus and Cooper didn’t specify whether the two men would be called to testify against others in Nevada or Oregon.
The Oregon trial is scheduled to begin next month.