Tuesday, February 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
Reward offered for suspect in sexual assault of Pasco woman, 71

Reward offered for suspect in sexual assault of Pasco woman, 71

NEW PORT RICHEY— Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay is offering a reward of up to $3,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of a suspect accused of breaking into a home and raping a 71-year-old woman.On Monday, the Pasco County Sherif...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds

Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds

More than 6 in 10 Americans fault Congress and President Donald Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with most Americans continuing to say these incidents are more reflective of probl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

His words and his pleas are similar to what we’ve heard from others in recent days.Kids deserve to feel safe when they walk into a classroom in Florida. More security is needed. More boots on the ground would be helpful. Mostly, more money must be de...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Seven months ago, Jalyssa Shannon’s older sister Janessa went missing, sparking a frantic search that ended with the discovery of the 13-year-old’s body in a Hillsborough County nature preserve and, later, the arrest of the girls’ father in her murde...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Man sought in sexual assault of woman, 71, in New Port Richey

Man sought in sexual assault of woman, 71, in New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — Deputies are searching for a man who they said broke into a home and raped a 71-year-old woman on Monday.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said the woman was checking on a home at 7437 Heather St. for the homeowner at about 8:15 a.m...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Police identify man found dead in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police on Monday released the identity of the man who was found dead inside an apartment last week.Officers said it was Abdirashid Ali, 50, who was discovered around 3 p.m. Friday at The Courtyard on the River Apartments, 5217 Sonora Court.De...
Published: 02/19/18
Sheriff’s undercover sting nabs 26 ‘brazen’ unlicensed contractors

Sheriff’s undercover sting nabs 26 ‘brazen’ unlicensed contractors

DUNEDIN –– Pinellas sheriff’s detectives spent their weekend luring in unlicensed electrical, plumbing and other home improvement contractors to a vacant home wired with cameras.It took only hours before a stream of people arrived to work on the outd...
Published: 02/19/18
Video: Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz in brief court hearing

Video: Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz in brief court hearing

PARKLAND — Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz has appeared in court for a procedural hearing. Cruz said nothing at Monday’s hearing in Broward County Circuit Court, the first he attended in person and not via teleconference from jail. He ke...
Published: 02/19/18
Teachers say Florida shooter’s problems started in middle school, and the system tried to help him

Teachers say Florida shooter’s problems started in middle school, and the system tried to help him

PARKLAND, Fla. — The real problems started at least as early as middle school and quickly intensified. There were the vocal outbursts, disturbing drawings of stick figures with guns, constant disciplinary issues. There were threatening statements wri...
Published: 02/19/18
This gun owner said the Parkland shooting was the last straw. So he turned his rifle over to deputies

This gun owner said the Parkland shooting was the last straw. So he turned his rifle over to deputies

The Parkland school shooting inspired a Florida gun owner to turn his beloved AR-57 over to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office."As I struggle to make heads or tails of another senseless mass shooting in the USA, I can no longer offer only my ‘though...
Published: 02/19/18