Second Oregon Refuge Occupier Pleads Guilty

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — How much of your life would you have to give up to help carry out an armed occupation of federal buildings? Thirty months, according to government lawyers who negotiated the guilty plea of the first of Ammon Bundy’s co-defendants.
     Corey Lequieu, 46, agreed Thursday to plead guilty to one of the three charges against him for his part in the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Lequieu pleaded guilty to conspiring to keep federal officers from doing their jobs.
     In exchange, the government agreed to drop two other charges: possession of guns in a federal facility and using a gun to commit a crime of violence — which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
     And the government agreed not to charge Lequieu over his alleged role in the 2014 standoff between the government and patriarch Cliven Bundy at the elder Bundy’s Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch over a refusal to pay more than $1 million in federal grazing fees.
     Lequieu, who lived in Fallon, Nevada, before the occupation, has several unrelated felony convictions in California. As part of the plea deal, the government also agreed not to charge Lequieu for being a felon in possession of a gun either in Nevada or in Oregon.
     Occupation ringleader Ammon Bundy and seven other defendants filed a motion to dismiss the most serious charge against them — using a gun to commit a crime of violence. If they are successful, they would avoid being charged for a crime that counted against Lequieu in his plea deal.
     Lequieu told U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown Thursday that he didn’t know why the government would charge him or any of his co-defendants with using a gun to commit a crime of violence.
     “That’s the part I didn’t quite understand, because the only violence in the whole Malheur situation was when the government murdered LaVoy Finicum,” Lequieu said. “That’s the only violence there was.”
     Finicum was gunned down by Oregon State Police in the Jan. 26 traffic stop that netted the arrests of Ammon Bundy and the rest of the occupation leadership.
     Regardless, Lequieu told Brown that the deal was still worth it, particularly because he would avoid prosecution for carrying a gun as a felon.
     “As I understand it, it doesn’t matter if I take it to trial and win on every one, I’m still going to get hammered on felon in possession,” Lequieu said. “So it’s damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”
     “That sounds like a person who is weighing all the options,” Brown said. “You personally are choosing to cap your risks and plead guilty and clear the decks.”
     Brown explained that the conspiracy charge for which Lequieu was pleading guilty didn’t require a criminal act to have been accomplished. Instead, it’s the agreement to commit a crime that is illegal, and acting in any way to help advance the goals of the conspiracy. All members of the conspiracy are responsible for any acts done to further it, whether or not they personally carried them out.
     She asked Lequieu what it was that he believed he had done on behalf of the conspiracy to occupy the refuge.
     “Basically just being there,” Lequieu replied.
     “Mere presence is not a crime,” Brown said. “So the question is, did you agree to be there?”
     “Yes, your honor,” Lequieu said.
     “Did you agree to impede federal employees from doing their work?” Brown asked.
     “Yes, your honor.”
     “Did you agree to participate in blocking access to the refuge?” Brown asked
     “Yes, your honor.”
     “In course of doing that, did you possess a firearm?” Brown asked.
     “Yes, your honor.”
     “And did you know what you were doing?” Brown asked.
     “Yes, your honor.”
     Lequieu’s lawyer Ramon Pagan said in an interview after the hearing that Lequieu decided to plead guilty because his prior felonies exposed him to a longer sentence than the other defendants faced.
     But Pagan emphasized that Lequieu hadn’t cooperated with the government.
     “If he had, he would probably be facing a lot less than 30 months,” Pagan said.
     Brown said she couldn’t promise that she would adopt the negotiated sentence.
     “I won’t be under any requirement to impose the sentence you and the government have negotiated,” Brown said. “All I can promise is that I will be fair and will follow the law and be reasonable. And that’s defined as enough, but not too much and never more than the maximum penalty.”
     Colorado resident Scott Alan Willingham, 49, pleaded guilty last week, under separate charges that he helped LaVoy Finicum steal government cameras from a weigh station outside the refuge. Willingham is facing six months in jail under a negotiated plea agreement.
     Lequieu is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 25, days before the trial is set to begin for his 24 co-defendants.

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