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Valrico prepper Winters takes plea deal in federal gun case

Martin H. Winters has to tell where at least 30 illegally bought semi­automatic rifles are.
Martin H. Winters has to tell where at least 30 illegally bought semi­automatic rifles are.
Published Aug. 20, 2014

TAMPA — Doomsday prepper Martin Howard Winters, the subject of a June manhunt in eastern Hillsborough County, admits in a signed plea agreement that he illegally designed and owned destructive devices.

Winters, jailed without bail since his June 18 surrender to the FBI, is the latest of six people in a federal gun investigation to strike a deal with prosecutors.

Under its terms, he must disclose the location of at least 30 semiautomatic rifles obtained through straw buyers. The government would drop two existing charges and not prosecute him for the straw purchases.

The 55-year-old Valrico man led a group known as the River Otter Preppers, which advocated survival preparations in advance of an end-times event foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelation, court records state.

An undercover FBI agent reported that Winters talked of buried guns, booby traps and his plans to kill government agents if they raided his property.

Winters is scheduled to enter a formal guilty plea Oct. 2 in U.S. District Court in Tampa. The offenses are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Co-defendant Michael Bonta, 49, who also signed an agreement, is expected to plead guilty to making destructive devices. His plea agreement states that he made about 20 devices that Winters called "rod holders."

The devices, according to court records, were designed to function as booby traps and could fire 12-gauge shotgun shells.

He made them without getting a proper federal permit and then didn't register them, the government alleged. Destructive devices and some other weapons — such as machine guns, silen­cers and short-barrel shotguns — are federally controlled.

Four others caught up in the investigation have pleaded guilty and are to be sentenced Oct. 31.

James Bruce Beebe, 56, and Jason Michael Swain, 33, each admitted to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Beebe's felony conviction, a California robbery, dated back to 1977. Swain was convicted of burglary and grand theft in 2007.

Desiree Beebe, 23, and Nicholas Ryan Hall, 23, each pleaded guilty to making a false written statement when buying a firearm, pretending the weapons were for their own use.

The cases were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Hansen, and Winters was represented by attorney Ellis Faught Jr.

Contact Patty Ryan at (813) 226-3382 or pryan@tampabay.com.

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