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Key defendant in Bunkerville standoff pleads not guilty

A key defendant in armed standoffs with law enforcement in Oregon and Nevada pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges in the Nevada case.

Conservative radio talk show host Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati faces 16 felony charges stemming from the 2014 standoff with law enforcement outside the Bundy family ranch near Bunkerville. He was indicted earlier this month in Las Vegas with Bundy patriarch, Cliven Bundy, and 17 other defendants, including four Bundy sons.

FBI agents arrested Santilli and others last month in Oregon as part of a move to end the 41-day occupation of a government wildlife refuge in that state.

Santilli, who is being held without bail, was regarded as the spokesman for the group that took control of the refuge.

When U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Koppe asked Santilli in court Wednesday whether he understood the Nevada charges against him, he responded that he did. Then he added, “But I am a radio talk show host.”

Federal prosecutors were also in court making a case to keep another Nevada defendant, Steven Stewart, 36, of Idaho, behind bars.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson said Stewart participated in an “unprecedented act of violence” against federal officers during the April 12, 2014, standoff near the Bundy family ranch in Bunkerville.

The officers, who were placed in fear of their lives by armed Bundy supporters, were merely trying to enforce federal court orders to round up Bundy cattle being grazed illegally on federal land, Dickinson said.

Dickinson showed Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro photos of Stewart armed with an assault rifle on a bridge high above the federal officers while other militia were prone nearby setting their rifle sights on them.

Stewart was acting as a spotter for the snipers and was willing to kill federal agents, Dickinson argued.

Defense lawyer Richard Tanasi said Stewart, who has pleaded not guilty, is a family man and not a violent person, but Navarro ordered him held without bail as he faces trial.

Santilli’s plea came as four other defendants, including Bundy sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are fighting a court order to be transferred to Nevada to answer the Bunkerville charges.

Defense lawyers in Portland say the defendants want to resolve their criminal cases in Oregon first and contend that their Sixth Amendment rights to due process and a speedy trial would be violated if they are brought to Nevada.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ

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