Griesacker was supposed get his wrists slapped a little bit harder: He was sentenced in February 1999 to 57 months without parole on nine counts of bank fraud, one count of mail fraud and a conspiracy charge stemming from $2 million in worthless checks he'd passed off as government drafts. But he was released from a maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, eighteen months early on May 30 and has been shuffling around Wichita, Kansas, halfway houses ever since, according to federal officials. Come the end of the month, he'll be free to return home to St. Mary's, Kansas, thirty miles north of Topeka.
Formerly named Ronald Laycock, he -- along with his wife and their five children -- was adopted in the mid-'90s by retired NASA engineer Ignatius Griesacker of St. Mary's. Father and son both worship in that town's dominant church, the Society of Saint Pius X, a Catholic faction excommunicated by the Vatican for being too conservative.
What's suspicious is that Ronald Griesacker got out of prison so soon, say the investigators, lawyers and militiamen who worked to lock him up in the first place, some of whom call him "John Doe No. 3." After the Oklahoma City bombing, Griesacker blithely hopscotched among his anti-government buddies' fortified compounds in Montana, Missouri, Kansas and Texas, encouraging them to pick fights with the government and making sure they left paper trails. Griesacker may have been the decade's most-successful anti-terrorism government informant: His buddies were sent to prison for decades. In fact, what's really odd may be that Griesacker went to prison at all.
"He definitely, in my opinion, was an informant, because he had real good luck, and everybody he was with had real bad luck," says retired Shawnee County Sheriff's Sergeant J.D. Mauck.
Mauck is peeved because he believes Griesacker (and other anti-government Freemen) victimized many more central Kansans than he was punished for, but state and federal investigators waited until legal deadlines had nearly expired before allowing local police to help with the investigations. There were "tens of millions of dollars [in offenses] that died for the statute of limitations," Mauck says.
In the jittery months after Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and others unknown built the Oklahoma City truck bomb at Geary State Fishing Lake, 80 miles southwest of St. Mary's ("Ryders of the Storm," June 14, 2001), Griesacker went to Jordan, Montana. There, he hung out with Freemen who had proclaimed their community, Justus Township, a sovereign nation and who would later face down federal agents for 81 days. Back in Kansas, he and other Topekans -- all former Kansas prison guards or police officers -- took out ads in a rebel newspaper announcing the establishment of eighteen "Common Law Courts" in Kansas and bragging that they "attended a school of learning, taught by LeRoy M. Schweitzer, Dale Jacobi, Rodney O. Skurdal, Daniel E. Peterson and others of the infamous 'Montana Seven' (all sovereign freemen of irreproachable character)."
Eventually the Montana Freeman compound fell into U.S. government hands. Leader Schweitzer got 22 years in prison. Griesacker remained free but immediately turned up in Missouri Freeman circles, Mauck says. By June 1996, Missouri authorities had cracked down on Freemen in the eastern part of the state. They received sentences as long as seven years, but Griesacker remained at large.
By late 1996, Griesacker was living with the secessionist Republic of Texas Freemen, teaching the same check-writing scheme. He made side trips to visit other militia groups, hooking up with Brad Glover in Towanda, Kansas, whom two Missouri State Patrol troopers were tracking undercover. In May and July of 1997, federal agents defeated the Republic of Texas, and Glover was arrested on charges of attempting to take over Fort Hood, Texas (where he thought Chinese troops were training).
Griesacker disappeared, and members of the Republic of Texas went on trial for mail fraud.
By March 1998, defense lawyers for Republic of Texas leader Richard McLaren theorized that Griesacker had entrapped their client by promoting the bank-fraud scheme while working as a federal informant.
Dallas attorney Thomas Mills determined through phone records that Griesacker was in Oregon. He also discovered a federal warrant for Griesacker's arrest. He faxed the warrant to Carl Worden of the Southern Oregon Militia, who learned that his local police could not find the warrant listed in the national database cops use to check on anyone they find suspicious. Worden tells the Pitch that the feds must have had Griesacker on a leash: They'd been threatening him with arrest on the secret warrant if he didn't help bring down militia groups, but the feds didn't have to worry about some local cop busting him because the warrant wasn't visible in the national database.
Worden got busy. "We found out [Griesacker] was trying to set up one of our local boys here," he says. "I contacted the local sheriff and told him we had a federal fugitive and he needed to be picked up. I faxed the warrant to the sheriff, telling them to contact the federal authorities in Kansas."
Meanwhile, Mills had obtained a subpoena requiring Griesacker to come to Texas to testify. Federal prosecutors had no choice -- they promptly piled onto Griesacker. "The day after we got the subpoena issued, the grand jury indicted [Griesacker]," Mills tells the Pitch.
Griesacker proved worthless to Mills. "The evidence I have, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will clear all of the defendants," Griesacker told Mills on April Fools' Day 1998, according to the Dallas Morning News. But he refused to detail his activities at the Republic of Texas because U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish would not grant him "sovereign judicial diplomatic immunity." McLaren was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years on fraud charges as well as more than 100 years on various violent felony charges, including kidnapping. Glover, too, was found guilty and sentenced to five years on weapons charges.
On November 4, 1998, the Associated Press reported that a Wichita federal court had found Griesacker guilty of enough felonies to lock him up for 280 years. Somehow, serving as his own attorney, he managed to get just 57 months.
One of his first stops in the federal prison system was the cushy medical camp in Springfield, Missouri. By October 11, 2001, he'd been transferred to Florence, Colorado, home of the nation's most heavily secured prison outside Guantínamo Bay, Cuba. He wrote the Pitch last September 9 from a Minnesota prison to explain the transfer: "Because of one word which I used 'TORT' and the guard stating that he heard me say 'TORCH' I am now being transferred to a higher custody prison. And just think, before this, I was camp eligible as they would say. Now ... I'm to be transferred to Florence, Colorado."
He signed the letter, "Arthur Alexander Augustus, Potentates Insolitar Mentis Ameraudur Totius Americanum Patriae," which translates roughly as political emperor of all American soil.
Responding to a question from the Pitch regarding his Freeman activities, Griesacker wrote, "As to your other alluring comments, in respect to my alleged involvement in advocating anything or any recognition such deserves at any point in time rests with those and history to whom conditions permit."
He didn't like prison much: "Furthermore, in regards to my so-called living conditions of which are surely to be desired by the most fashionable destitutes; I would have you know, they are the blight upon the senses of all Freedom loving people of all walks of life. And, as to my health, under these conditions are not amenable to ageing [sic] gracefully by any respectable standard of human just civility."
As of September 4, 2002, according to federal Bureau of Prisons officials, Griesacker was at Mirror Incorporated, a Wichita halfway house. He has not returned phone calls from the Pitch. He's been similarly silent with Ignatius Griesacker, the St. Mary's man who adopted him. "I haven't had contact with him for four years," Ignatius tells the Pitch. Ignatius had been away from St. Mary's back in the days when Ronald had been promoting the Freeman movement in Kansas, he says. "I didn't agree with that whole thing."
For the moment, Ronald Griesacker's probation officer won't let him be a Freeman. "Griesacker shall not participate in any anti-government or tax-protester activities or associate with any individuals who are known members of these groups or possess any literature supporting these groups during the term of supervision," says Brad Roux of the Kansas City, Kansas, office of the Bureau of Prisons.
But the Central Point, Oregon, rebel whom Worden says was being "set up" by Griesacker tells the Pitch that he's had numerous telephone discussions with Griesacker at the Wichita halfway houses he's been in since May 30. "He sounds like he's in very good spirits," says Robert Kelly, publisher of The American's Bulletin. Although in 1995 Kelly published Griesacker's early declaration forming "common law" courts in Kansas, he thinks Griesacker isn't violating the rules of release by talking to him. "I'm not anti-government, and I'm not a tax protester," Kelly explains. He also disputes the notion that Griesacker is a federal informant or a criminal. "I've not seen any evidence anywhere that he has injured anybody." The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms declined to comment.
Ignatius Griesacker can't predict whether Ronald will return to St. Mary's, but Mauck expects the adopted prodigal son to hurry back to Ignatius as soon as he needs money.
Evidence released during the Oklahoma City bombing trials showed that Timothy McVeigh placed phone calls to a member of the Society of Saint Pius X in St. Mary's. Terry Nichols once teamed up with a Kansas Freeman to file fraudulent paperwork, says Suzanne James of Topeka, who worked as a victims' advocate in the Shawnee County prosecutor's office when the Freemen were writing bad checks. McVeigh's lawyer often spoke of evidence that suggested federal agents knew about the bombing before it happened.
Such details feed speculation that Griesacker might also have known something about the bomb plot hatched in central Kansas.
Attorney Mills called him "John Doe No. 3" during McLaren's trial. He claims that a private investigator, John Culbertson, "has a picture of an individual in downtown Oklahoma City at the scene of the bombing that appears to be Griesacker."
Culbertson (who was recently appointed temporary administrator of the congressional office of convicted and expelled Representative James Trafficant of Ohio) tells the Pitch, "We got a picture at about 10 o'clock in the morning. He's there in a polo shirt and bulletproof vest." (An e-mailed copy of the photo is too blurry to be persuasive.)
Suzanne James suspects that Griesacker even informed the ATF about the bombing before it happened. Culbertson suspects the feds were nonetheless outwitted by McVeigh; James suspects they simply failed to take the threat seriously.
"I think Griesacker probably told his handler about it, and it was written off," she says.