Criminal charges have been dropped against nine of 13 people arrested last year in Florida for allegedly participating in paramilitary training with the American Front, described by authorities as a well-armed, militia-style white supremacist group.
Only its leader, Marcus Faella, 39, still faces trial next month in Osceola County. He is charged with participating and teaching paramilitary training, attempting to shoot into an occupied dwelling, and directing the activities of a gang.
Previously, defendant Christopher Brooks, 28, was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Luke Leger, 32, and Kent McLellan, 22, each received four years probation after pleading no contest to charges of participating in paramilitary training.
Defense attorneys have told various media outlets that the state’s case began to fall apart when they were able to question a government informant under oath and view a secretly made video of the paramilitary training at Faella’s property.
Prosecutors may well have concluded that the video, their major piece of evidence, didn’t show a crime occurring. The video showed members of the American Front firing guns and making racially charged statements, but their defense attorney argued that it showed no criminal activity, Orlando television station WFTV reported this week.
The informant was paid $40,000 to infiltrate the white supremacy group, which gathered on a 10-acre plot near St. Cloud, Fla., owned by Faella, 39, and his wife, Patricia, 36. Charges against her and defendant Dylan Rettenmaier were dismissed before their trial was scheduled to start on Monday.
At the time of their arrests, prosecutors alleged the American Front members were planning acts of violence and preparing for “an inevitable race war” in which they would kill Jews, immigrants and other minorities. Court documents described a compound that featured fortified gun entrenchments, barbed wire and firing ports cut into the side of the Faellas’ mobile home.
Assistant State Attorney Sarah Hatch announced the dismissals in court and without elaboration. The state attorney’s office later issued a statement saying it would be inappropriate to comment on the reason for the dismissals while the charges against Faella were pending.
Charges previously were dismissed against Verlin C. Lewis, 40, of Lynn Haven, Fla.; Mark McGowan, 29, and Jennifer McGowan, 25, of Canaveral Groves, Fla.; Diane Stevens, 28, Dustin Perry, 27, and Richard Stockdale, 23, all of Kissimmee, Fla.; and Paul Jackson, 25, of St. Cloud, Fla.
American Front’s roots in Florida date back to the 1980s when its late founder, David Lynch, lived there before moving to California. He led a major resurgence of the group about five years ago before he was murdered in his Sacramento home in March 2011. His murder remains unsolved.
Shortly after the 13 suspects were arrested last year in Florida, death threats were posted on several websites, naming former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar, Circuit Judge Walter Komanski, task force agent Kelly Boaz and their families. Those threats prompted an FBI investigation, but there have been no arrests.
Meanwhile, the man who was accused of conducting the training, former Missouri National Guardsman Ryan Riley, was never charged. Riley retained an attorney and, early on, agreed to provide Florida prosecutors with information in exchange for not being charged, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last year. He is expected to be a key prosecution witness against Marcus Faella if the case goes to trial on May 6.
Riley became interested in white supremacy and neo-Nazi skinhead groups in 2008 while serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army, the newspaper reported. Quoting public court documents, the newspaper said Riley corresponded with the Hammerskins, Volksfront and Blood & Honour before becoming interested in American Front, believing the California-based skinhead group “was more tolerant” of other neo-Nazi skinhead gangs.
After returning to the United States in 2010, the newspaper said, Riley continued communicating with Marcus Faella before accepting an invitation to a “barbecue and camping weekend” in early July at Faella’s property near St. Cloud. Riley took a pistol, an AK-47 assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition with him to Florida, according to the court document he signed, and Faella had 12 assault rifles and additional pistols he lent to others for the firearms training.
While there, court documents say, Riley provided hand-to-hand combat and firearms training and, in exchange, was awarded an American Front patch and declared by Faella to be the leader of the Missouri chapter. The St. Louis newspaper reported that it was unclear if there were ever other members from Missouri. Riley joined the Missouri Army National Guard in May 2011, and his enlistment ended on May 25, 2012.
The Missouri National Guard conducted an investigation, but spokeswoman Maj. Tammy Spicer told the St. Louis newspaper that its results wouldn’t be made public because they involved “personnel matters.”