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Members of 3% militia group say leader took money meant for arrested Idahoans

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A group of anti-government ranchers and activists seized buildings at a rural Oregon federal wildlife refuge on January 2. The heavily-armed group drew criticism from locals and support from militia groups. On February 11, the last occupier turned

Thirty-six members of 3% of Idaho, many in leadership positions, announced their resignations Tuesday evening after they said $2,901 in donations earmarked for four Idaho men accused in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada were improperly spent.

They claim Brandon Curtiss, the group’s president, spent the money on unauthorized car accessories, car washes, camping at an Idaho state park, iTunes music downloads, gasoline and food at restaurants, among other charges. (Scroll down to read the resignation letter.)

“We were recently given access to the PayPal and the bank account statements and discovered a lot of money had been donated and our families never received anything from Brandon with the exception of the occasional $50,” said Chelsea Hamel, the daughter of Challis resident Scott Drexler, one of the four Idaho men awaiting trial next year in Nevada.

She said her dad and the other three men only received a total of $429 from 3% of Idaho following a benefit effort this summer.

The resignations came in a letter that accused Curtiss of using the donated money for his own use.

“It is with heavy hearts that we, the undersigned, do solemnly testify to you that we believe that substantial portions of these gifts have been grievously misused within the Idaho III% organization,” the letter reads. “We do not put forth this accusation lightly, or without due diligence and proper deliberation.”

Curtiss, in an email to the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday night, said he would issue a “full statement” concerning the allegations on Wednesday. Later Tuesday evening, another person wrote to say that further inquiries for Curtiss should go through that person, who would not identify himself or herself.

An anonymous complaint was filed Monday with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office.

“I can neither confirm nor deny whether we are taking any action on the complaint,” said Brian Kane, assistant chief deputy attorney general.

The 3% of Idaho this week appears to be pursuing damage control. Brooke Agresta, Curtiss’ girlfriend and a regional 3% of Idaho leader, posted a warning on her Facebook page this weekend saying the group planned to take legal action against anyone possessing or distributing the bank and PayPal statements. She claimed improper possession of a bank statement amounted to grand theft, though nothing in the relevant Idaho statute appears to state that.

Curtiss heads the Idaho branch of the 3%, a militia movement that says it’s devoted to “freedom, liberty and the Constitution.” One member, who did not wish to be identified, said there were about 1,000 members statewide before the resignations began.

Concert raised money for four Idaho prisoners

On July 9, 3% of Idaho members in south-central Idaho held a benefit concert at Rock Creek Park in Twin Falls. The event raised $2,475, with attendees told that 100 percent of the amount collected would be turned over to Drexler, Todd Engel of Boundary County and Eric Parker and Steve Stewart of Hailey.

The four men are charged with conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, use of a firearm, obstruction and other counts during the standoff with federal agents at the Bunkerville, Nev., ranch of Cliven Bundy.

Parker, a former vice president of 3% of Idaho, Drexler and Engel were among the members who resigned on Tuesday.

The money was deposited in 3% of Idaho’s bank account at Mountain West Bank — controlled by Curtiss — on July 25, according to bank statements obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

An additional $426 for the prisoners was raised by 3% of Idaho members in other parts of the state. Equal deposits of $213 were made on Aug. 22 and Sept. 6, according to the bank statements.

Deposit follows six weeks of account in the red

At the time of the July 25 deposit, the account was overdrawn by $567. The bank subtracted that amount to bring the account back into the black.

The account had been overdrawn continuously from June 8 to July 25. Records show the group was docked $670 in overdraft fees between Jan. 1 and July 25, including a $5 daily charge when the account was in the red.

“What bothers everyone the most is seeing how much money was spent in such a reckless manner, when it was supposed to go to our political prisoners. These four families are fighting a battle against the government and have now been betrayed,” said a former member who asked not to be identified.

She said she was recently involuntarily removed from the organization, after she began questioning spending by Curtiss. She said other members were warned they would be removed from the group if they attended a meeting held Thursday in Filer where the spending improprieties were discussed. More than half of that area’s 100 members resigned before or during that meeting, another member said. The Statesman could not independently confirm that figure.

Questionable expenses include truck modifications, camping

The group’s PayPal account was in Curtiss’ name. PayPal records show Curtiss paid $295 on Aug. 7 to Rollin Smoke Diesel, an Indiana company that supplies aftermarket parts that allow pickups with diesel engines to produce thick clouds of black smoke in what has become a fad in some areas. The next day, the company credited $13 back to the account.

On Aug. 8, the account was billed $30 from Mister Car Wash in Nampa. Other payments that month for which the business purpose wasn’t clear include $37.50 to Adele’s Storage in Clarkston, Wash.; $30 to, an online company that provides criminal records, personal financial information and contact information for people; $18.55 to a Taco Bell in Ontario, Ore.; and $71.59 to a Maverik store in Fruitland, where Curtiss resides.

That same month, the Mountain West Bank statement shows a $98.44 charge for an Idaho Parks and Recreation camping reservation and a $5 iTunes music download. There were also $292 in gasoline and food charges in Winnemucca, Nev., and Roseville and Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 3 and 4, along with an Aug. 3 Walmart purchase in Sacramento.

By Sept. 13, the bank account showed a balance of $12.58. Six days later, the account was closed. It’s unclear whether 3% of Idaho has another existing bank account or what financial resources it still has.

For months, a page at the group’s website solicited donations and said they were tax-deductible. The 3% of Idaho asked for donations to cover the group’s expenses and for money to go to the four Idaho prisoners. The page was removed in the past few days.

In order for donors to deduct charitable donations on their tax returns, a nonprofit organization must receive certification as a 501(3)(c) organization. 3% of Idaho does not appear on the Internal Revenue Service’s list of certified groups and the IRS has not received an application from the group, a spokesman said.

A taxpayer who files for an improper deduction risks having the deduction rejected and having to pay additional tax and a possible penalty.

Last week, the group on its Facebook page provided links to individual fundraising accounts operated by the families of the four Idaho prisoners.

Comments at Malheur Refuge brought scrutiny

Curtiss previously operated two property management companies based in Meridian, Curtiss Property Management and Liberty Property Management. He drew attention to his businesses in an interview with an Oregonian reporter during a visit to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January, while it was seized by armed protestors. Three weeks later, he filed for bankruptcy — his third filing since 2001.

Curtiss left a trail of unpaid bills and was sued by the owners of properties he managed for failing to turn over rent money he collected from apartment residents. He owes a Portland couple, Aaron and Leslie Boyce, $68,549 from a judgment issued after Curtiss failed to turn over rents and deposits owed on a rental he managed for them.

Last week, a bankruptcy court judge ordered Curtiss to pay $22,350 plus $2,000 in attorney fees to Martinique Properties. The company, owned by state Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, had contracted with Curtiss Property Management and claimed Curtiss failed to turn over money owed from rentals.

The order by Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.

In June, Curtiss filed registration documents for a new business with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. According to its Facebook page, Sons of Liberty Recovery apprehends fugitives.

Curtiss was fined $7,200 this summer after Curtiss failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance for his employees. The suit was brought by the Idaho Industrial Commission, which claimed the workers hadn’t been covered since Oct. 1.

The Idaho State Police has an ongoing investigation into claims that Curtiss owed at least 17 clients money.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

Read the resignation letter

The following letter was released Tuesday evening and signed by 36 members and former members of 3% of Idaho. In it, they question spending by Curtiss of $2,901 donated for use by four Idaho men accused in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada.

Brothers and Sisters of the Republic,

Our time for action is so perilously short; the hour of trial of our collective virtue for the preservation of natural, individual liberty draws nigh. In February of 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada will try four (4) of our brothers in a watershed Constitutional case.

There stands before this patriot community an issue that must be laid to rest in order for us to render unto our brothers and their families the support that they need. Many of us, in one way or another have worked toward, contributed to, donated for, and sacrificed our time, hope, energy, and resources to help these men in their hour of need. It is with heavy hearts that we, the undersigned, do solemnly testify to you that we believe that substantial portions of these gifts have been grievously misused within the Idaho III% organization. We do not put forth this accusation lightly, or without due diligence and proper deliberation ad nauseum (SIC). On our sacred honor we do testify to the following:

I. That on July 9th, 2016 a benefit concert named Freedom Fest generated $2,475.00 in net revenue that was earmarked as 100% proceeds going directly to Idaho political prisoners and their families;

II. That on July 25th, 2016 that the proceeds for this benefit were deposited into an account overdrawn by $566.75 due in part to several overdraft expenditures and twenty-nine (29) daily “Continuous Overdraft Fees” on business days from June 13th through July 22nd, 2016;

III. That on August 22nd, 2016, $213.00 taken in cash collections, earmarked as 100% proceeds going directly to Idaho political prisoners and their families, was deposited into the organization's account;

IV. That on September 6th, 2016 an additional $213.00 taken in cash collections, earmarked as 100% proceeds going directly to Idaho political prisoners and their families, was deposited into the organization's account;

V. That of the $2,901.00 collected from July 9th through September 6th of 2016 that were earmarked as 100% proceeds going directly to Idaho political prisoners and their families, less than $500.00 was used for this purpose;

VI. That the families of Eric Parker, Scott Drexler, and Steven Stewart have affirmed that collectively, between the three of them, they have received less than $500.00 since the Freedom Fest event;

VII. That between August 2nd and August 3rd of 2016 that Brandon Curtiss did use Idaho III% funds at least six (6) times totaling over $300.00 to fund food and fuel for a trip to Sacramento, California while performing work related to his privately owned fugitive recovery business;

VIII. That from July 26th to September 19th, 2016 (when the organization's checking account was closed) that funds specifically reserved for Idaho political prisoners were excessively, inappropriately, or negligently used by Brandon Curtiss for food, fuel, and miscellaneous unnecessary expenditures including, but not limited to, iTunes and auto accessories;

IX. That expenditures by Johnathan R. Casey were, in fact, reasonable and legitimate even without prior explicit approval, and that they were collectively immaterial in regard to the greater issue of determining if earmarked funds were misused;

X. That Sean and Heather O’Donahue have provided honest and wholly truthful testimony that the charitable funds solicited by the Idaho III% organization on their behalf and for their benefit were never remitted to them by Brandon Curtiss;

XI. That financial records related to the Idaho III% have never been made public at regularly scheduled intervals from which transparency and accountability could be established;

XII. That the pattern of fiscal irresponsibility and negligence is not limited to the period immediately following Freedom Fest and that it spans the entire elapsed time from when our political prisoners were arrested in March of 2016 to the present;

XIII. That there exists substantial, reasonable, and prudent cause based upon a preponderance of evidence to permanently disavow the Idaho III% as a legitimate patriot organization in lieu of a decentralized community of patriot groups that collectively honor the commitment to support our political prisoners with complete transparency and accountability;

XIV. That, finally, the preponderance of evidence from which this conclusion is drawn is altogether genuine, accurate, thorough, and not otherwise subject to plausible rebuttal from which the foundation of this endeavor might be cast into the realm of questionable veracity.

We believe that this course of action, being the only viable path forward, will best lay to rest the irreparable and irreconcilable issues that now embattle the Idaho III%. We will explain to anyone who asks how we came to this collective decision. It is our hope that each of you will embrace the urgency to swiftly put these matters behind the community and engage in the creation of patriot groups or assimilate into existing legitimate patriot groups that both fit individual personal interests, gifts, talents, and passions while actively seeking to assist these political prisoners and their families. The best way that we can help them prepare for trial is to make sure that they do not need to worry about their families.

Our political prisoners are burdened with the concern that a void will form in the absence of a state-wide central group. We are committed to ensuring that this does not become the legacy of this endeavor. Groups that already left the organization continue their efforts absent the umbrella of the Idaho III% organization. Other organizations are either in the planning stages or already established. Details will soon follow and there will be no lack of options from which individuals can continue to support Idaho's four (4) political prisoners.

Therefore, on this Tuesday, the 26th of September, in the year of Two Thousand and Sixteen, for the reasons stated and testified to, we the undersigned do hereby wholly repudiate and permanently sever any ongoing affiliation with the III% of Idaho and affirmatively encourage each person to do the same.

We pledge to each other, our brothers in prison, and their families... our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Eric J. Parker - Political Prisoner, Former VP

O. Scott Drexler - Political Prisoner

Todd Engel - Political Prisoner

Jay Arehart - Former State Communications Coordinator

Suzi Arehart - Former Member

Jasmine Barrett - Former Assistant Zone 2 Leader

Lizz Baughman - Former Member

Kyle Boothe - Former Lincoln County Assistant Leader, Former Zone 5 Security Coordinator

Desiray Borda - Former Gooding County Assistant Leader

Ty Burgess - Former Gooding County Leader, Former Assistant Zone 5 Leader, Former Zone 5 Leader

Johnathan Casey - Former VP

Nicole Casey - Former Member

Anthony Dephue - Former Public Information Officer

Joshua Gibbons - Former Ada County Leader

Shawna Gutierrez - Former Lincoln County Coordinator

Janet Hampton - Former Zone 5 Assistant Leader

Terry Hampton - Former Lincoln County Leader

Shireena King - Former Member

Wes King - Former Zone 2 Medical Coordinator

Robert Lee - Former Zone 2 Firearms Instructor

Bryn Liebschwager - Former Zone 2 Leadership Team Member

Stephanie Olson - Former Member

Andrea Parker - Political Prisoner Spouse, Former Member

Michelle Sankey - Former Member

Matt Shaw - Former Zone 2 Security Team

Tim Silver - Former Gooding County Leader

Tony Sparks - Former Zone 2 Coordinator

Jentrie Stearns - Former Member

Matt Stearns - Former Twin Falls County Assistant Leader

Duwayne Terrell - Former Elmore County Leader

Jerry Thompson - Former Senior Recruiting Officer

BJ Tomberlin - Former Zone 5 Leader

James Ward - Former Treasurer

Kelsey Wade - Former Member

Todd Wade - Former Member

Allen Widder - Former Zone 2 Leadership Team / Firearms Instructor