Idaho militia leader arrested on grand theft charges

Brandon R. Curtiss, the former head of a militia-style group called Idaho III%, faced arraignment today in Boise on 19 felony charges related to the alleged theft of $87,000 in rent payments from business clients.

Curtiss, a former police officer, was among armed militia groups who traveled to the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve in eastern Oregon during a 41-day illegal occupation there in early 2016.

The 43-year-old self-styled militia leader, who currently lives in Payette, Idaho, was arrested Tuesday following a two-year investigation by the Idaho State Police.

Curtiss is charged with stealing $87,000 in rental receipts collected by his businesses, Curtiss Property Management and Liberty Property Management, which he operated from a Meridian office.

He collected the receipts on behalf of 19 clients who told investigators the payments were not forwarded to them between January 2013 and August 2016, a criminal complaint alleges.

Curtiss faces a potential maximum sentence of 14 years on each count. His bond was set at $150,000, the Idaho Statesman reported in today’s editions.

According to the newspaper, “is not clear” if state police also investigated reports that Curtiss misappropriated money from the Idaho III% group that he once headed. He currently is not charged with that alleged theft.

Curtiss told the Oregonian in 2016 that his companies managed 100 to 150 properties, but he refused to discuss bankruptcy filings.

A 2009 filing showed Curtiss owed about $140,000 to more than 20 creditors and was paying child support for two children. He filed bankruptcy a third time in February 2016 — during the Malheur occupation — listing debts of $235,000 and assets of $13,230.

Thirty-six members of the Idaho III% group resigned and reorganized under new leadership in September 2016 after accusing Curtiss of improperly spending $2,901 in donations collected for four Idaho men charged in connection with the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff at Bunkerville, Nevada.

It was that 2014 standoff, Curtiss would later explain, that provided the inspiration for him to form the Idaho III% group devoted to “freedom, liberty and the Constitution.”

Raised in California, Curtiss moved to Idaho and worked as an officer for the Nez Perce Tribal Police before joining the Orofino, Idaho, police department. He resigned there in 2005, claiming he was disenchanted with the fairness of the judicial system.

In early 2016, the Idaho III% group led a peaceful march in Burns, Oregon, to show support for two ranchers ordered to prison for starting fires on public lands. 

The militia groups demanded that the local sheriff intervene and attempt to stop federal authorities from taking custody of Dwight and Steve Hammond who were about to begin serving prison sentences.

When that notion was rebuffed, Ammon Bundy and others began the illegal occupation of the wildlife reserve which is south of Burns.