Advertisement
  1. News

Valrico doomsday prepper plotted confrontation with government agents, FBI says

Martin Howard Winters, 55, remained at large late Monday.
Published Jun. 18, 2014

A federal gun probe erupted into a manhunt in a rural stretch of Valrico on Monday, as authorities attempted to arrest a man accused of building unregistered destructive devices as part of an end-of-times plan to kill government agents.

Martin Howard Winters, 55, remained at large late Monday. He and five other people were indicted June 5 by a federal grand jury on sealed charges that arose from an investigation of a group called the River Otter Preppers, which Winters headed, according to court records.

The destructive devices — metal tubes designed to fire 12-gauge shotgun shells — were intended to function as booby traps, according to a 24-page search warrant affidavit that lays out the government's case.

Winters and the River Otter Preppers "are preparing for an end-of-times event as prophesied by the Book of Revelations in the Bible which he believes will occur in the near future," the affidavit states, "which will require individuals to rely on themselves for food and protection from other individuals and the federal government."

Last October, Winters told an FBI undercover employee that he had spent $200,000 on his preparations and that he had buried 60 AR-15 firearms in four barrels in the ground, the record states. They toured the neighborhood, and Winters pointed out bunkers that he keeps on three east Hillsborough County properties, two on Williams Boulevard and one on Spring Road.

He talked about shooting government agents in the back, first snagging them with fishhooks that would pop out of air-pressured pipes mounted on the eaves of porches. "Winters will then shoot the agents while they are entangled in the hooks," Special Agent Ronald Monaco wrote in the affidavit.

An unidentified FBI employee spent months in talks with Winters and wrote that he also talked of shooting tanks of propane gas to kill government agents as they entered his property.

The indictments, kept secret until Monday, also name Michael Bonta, 49; Jason Swain, 33; Nicholas Hall, 23; James Beebe, 56; and Desiree Beebe, 23. Bonta, like Winters, was charged with crimes related to the homemade destructive devices. The others were charged with being felons in possession of firearms and making false statements.

Only Winters was still free late Monday. He fled in his vehicle when agents arrived, and he then disappeared into a wooded area, the FBI said.

"We're hoping for a peaceful resolution to this," said FBI spokesman David Couvertier. "Nobody's looking to do him any harm."

In 2011, Winters was featured in a Tampa Bay Times story about a 130-foot flagpole he had erected on his 10-acre Valrico homestead. At the time, Winters said residents in his Williams Boulevard neighborhood supported the project and that many volunteered time and labor. He said he was motivated to complete the project out of respect for soldiers serving overseas.

"I did it because I have respect for the people who die for you," Winters said.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or pryan@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  2. An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft approaches Miami International Airport for landing in March. Bloomberg
    The 60-year-old veteran airline employee told investigators he was upset that union contract negotiations had stalled.
  3. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  4. Lilly Beth Rodriguez, left, Laura Robertson and Linda Lamont work on a Habitat for Humanity house in north Pasco. [Times (2013)]
    The increase is expected to happen in the first half of next year. CEO hopes other nonprofits follow suit.
  5. Terry Spencer carries his daughter, Trinity, through high water on 59th Street near Stewart Road in Galveston, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, as heavy rain from Tropical Depression Imelda caused street flooding on the island. JENNIFER REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Although the amount of predicted rainfall is massive — forecasters say some places could see 40 inches or more this week.
  6. This April 2001 photo, which appeared in a newsletter from the West Point Grey Academy, shows a costumed Justin Trudeau, his face and hands darkened by makeup, attending an "Arabian Nights" gala. The academy is a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. (West Point Grey Academy/The Canadian Press via AP)
    A few Southern politicians responded to similar scandals recently with denials, apologies, and promises. Most of them have managed to stay in office.
  7. The number of single-family homes sold in the Tampa Bay area during August rose 2.8 percent when compared with the same month last year, according to a monthly report from Florida Realtors. (Times file photo)
    The midpoint price in the bay area rose to $250,000, which is still lower than the state and national median prices.
  8. This April 14, 2019 file photo shows a western meadowlark in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colo. According to a study released on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, North America’s skies are lonelier and quieter as nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds soar in the air than in 1970. Some of the most common and recognizable birds are taking the biggest hits, even though they are not near disappearing yet. The population of eastern meadowlarks has shriveled by more than three-quarters with the western meadowlark nearly as hard hit. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) DAVID ZALUBOWSKI  |  AP
    “People need to pay attention to the birds around them because they are slowly disappearing,” said the study’s lead author.
  9. Michael Robert-Jose Harbaugh has pleaded guilty in the 2017 slaying of Safety Harbor neighbor David Sommer, a former reporter. Harbaugh also pleaded guilty to a charge he tried to have a witness in the case killed. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    Former journalist David Sommer was killed in 2017. Michael Harbaugh, 42, agreed to serve 30 years in prison for his crimes.
  10. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement