Thursday, September 20, 2018
Public safety

Doomsday prepper Martin Winters surrenders, held without bail

TAMPA — Federal authorities sought doomsday prepper Martin Winters for two days in the woods of east Hillsborough County, attempting to arrest him on weapons charges.

On the third day, agents didn't need to look far at all.

Winters, soggy-shoed and hungry, waited with a daughter in a car outside the FBI field office on Gray Street in Tampa on Wednesday morning as his attorneys stepped up to a reception desk and arranged his surrender.

In trade, he got cheeseburgers, fries, Gatorade, dry shoes, praise from the FBI and a morning free of gunfire — all this from the agency that had spent months chronicling his antigovernment rhetoric and spying on his preparations for an imminent "last stand" with law enforcement.

"We're glad to report that Mr. Winters did the right thing," said FBI spokesman David Couvertier. "We were hoping for a peaceful resolution, and today we got that."

Winters invoked his right to remain silent and was moved to the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa for a first appearance before Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson.

The defendant's three adult daughters sobbed when he was led into the room in restraints. He wore dark camouflage pants and a brown T-shirt, his face rimmed by a Zeus-like mane of churning black and white curls.

He stood when the judge entered the room. He called Wilson "Sir."

But Wilson called Winters a danger to the community and ordered him held without bail.

Federal authorities say Winters, 55, leads a group known as the River Otter Preppers that advocates survival preparations in advance of an end-times event foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelation.

He and five others were indicted by a grand jury nearly two weeks ago. He's accused of designing and building destructive devices without a permit, among other charges. He pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorney Ellis Faught Jr., who first represented Winters 35 years ago on a hunting violation, told the judge that an undercover FBI agent who spent months building a case against Winters had witnessed only talk.

But Wilson didn't accept that.

"This is not just talk," the judge said. "There were, in fact, destructive devices found and sold."

Winters talked about booby traps and stashes of weapons he had around his house at 3032 Williams Blvd., according to an FBI affidavit. He also discussed elaborate plans to kill government agents in the event that they raided his property.

The FBI had tried to arrest Winters on Monday as he was driving near Durant High School in east Hillsborough County, but he sped away.

Prosecutor Donald Hansen told the judge that agents exercised caution because Winters' two grandchildren were with him. Eventually, he let them out and then abandoned the vehicle and ran into the brush.

On Tuesday, the FBI announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to Winters' capture, calling him "armed and dangerous."

"It could have been a catastrophe had he not turned himself in," attorney Faught said.

The surrender process began with a phone call just after 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to Faught.

Winters' 26-year-old daughter, Tracey Winters, arranged to meet the attorney at his office. Once there, she said her father wanted to surrender, Faught said. They picked him up in the general area of his home, several miles southeast of Brandon.

"He got in the car immediately, and we didn't stop anywhere," Faught said. "We went on State Road 60 all the way in. I just wanted to make sure to get to the FBI office as fast as we could without incident."

Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

Comments
Boston incident sparks concern over testing gas pipes in St. Pete

Boston incident sparks concern over testing gas pipes in St. Pete

By SUHAUNA HUSSAINTimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — One day after a string of fiery natural-gas explosions rocked three Massachusetts towns,St. Petersburg sent out a notice to residents warning them that Florida Gas Transmission will be testing its...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Busted, baby: Rapper Plies arrested at Tampa International Airport

Busted, baby: Rapper Plies arrested at Tampa International Airport

TAMPA — The rapper Plies, aka Algernod Lanier Washington, was arrested at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday after authorities say a gun was found in his carry-on bag.The 42-year-old Wesley Chapel resident faces a charge of carrying a concealed...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office now has Facebook and Twitter accounts in Spanish.The agency celebrated the official launch of the accounts on Wednesday. Sheriff Chad Chronister said the goal is to connect with an increasing number of...
Published: 09/19/18
Ninety animals seized Tuesday in Hernando County cruelty case

Ninety animals seized Tuesday in Hernando County cruelty case

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando sheriff’s deputies seized 90 animals on Tuesday and arrested a woman on animal cruelty and animal mistreatment charges after people called with concerns about an ill horse.Crystal Robin Crawford, 46, was arrested but not taken ...
Published: 09/19/18
Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is setting the record straight about a viral Facebook video posted by a Dunedin woman who claimed she almost fell victim to human trafficking. Lynne Knowles took to Facebook to share what happened to her at the Pu...
Published: 09/19/18
Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

NEW PORT RICHEY — A few hours before he was lying on his back in the woods, shirtless with a dog’s jaws clamped around his arm, Kevin Wilson climbed into a second-story window and tried to kidnap a 6-month-old baby girl, according to the ...
Published: 09/19/18
Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

WASHINGTON — While Hurricane Florence barreled through the Carolinas, a different type of storm was brewing within the federal disaster relief agency tasked with responding to the fallout.The fate of Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergen...
Published: 09/19/18
Largo names new fire chief

Largo names new fire chief

LARGO — After two nationwide searches that produced 119 applicants, City Manager Henry Schubert didn’t have to look far to find his new fire chief.Schubert announced recently that Chad Pittman, deputy chief of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, w...
Published: 09/19/18
Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

TAMPA — An 18-year-old man was critically injured Tuesday when he was shot at an apartment complex in northeast Tampa.Officers responded about 2:30 a.m. to a call about an unknown emergency at the Silver Oaks Apartments, 4200 Kenneth Court, Ta...
Published: 09/18/18
Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

TAMPA — Police are bringing manslaughter charges against a Tampa man accused of throwing a fatal punch last April at well-known local muralist Matt Callahan.The suspect, 34-year-old Keith Mauga of Tampa, already is serving five years for aggravated b...
Published: 09/18/18