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Surplus dealer disappears after militia arrests

Casey Grove
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

With Dropzone owner Bill Fulton suddenly cutting his ties to his surplus and security business and then vanishing, questions have been mounting over whether he played a role in recent state and federal indictments of Fairbanks militia members.

The old Dropzone sign, which once advertised "SECURITY -- SURPLUS -- SURVIVAL," is gone from atop the Spenard surplus store.

A banner announcing "Under new management" was flying in its place Saturday. Fulton, until recently the store's owner, was also gone.

Less than six months after Fulton gained notoriety for handcuffing a reporter trying to question U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller at a school in Anchorage, the Dropzone is history.

"It's 907 Surplus now," said David Giles, a former employee of Fulton and the sudden new owner.

Controversy surrounding Fulton caused Giles to change the store's name.

Giles said he was tired of dealing with inquiries into Fulton's possible connection to leaders of the Fairbanks-based Peacemakers Militia, who are accused of obtaining illegal weapons and plotting to kill judges and police officers, among others, according to state and federal indictments.

Two undercover informants aided the FBI, according to an agent's sworn statement filed in court.

The questions people are asking Fulton's associates, including Giles, involve Fulton's dealings with the militia -- specifically, whether he sold weapons to the Peacemakers and if he's one of the undercover informants working with the FBI on their investigation.

In October, after the incident involving the handcuffed reporter, Fulton was asked by the Daily News about a militia poster hanging in his store. Fulton said he did not belong to any militia movement "but we do engage with them for business purposes," he said. "We own a surplus store, man."

After the Fairbanks arrests and filings in court in which the FBI said it used confidential informants to make their cases, online message boards frequented by militia members have been buzzing with questions about Fulton.

"Was he a plant all this time?" wondered Kath McCubbins-Carlson, a member of the Alaska Citizens Militia, on an online message board, apparently referring to Fulton. "If 'the Anchorage informant' was a certain person who owned a certain establishment that catered to a certain clientele, was he keeping records of everything YOU ever said to him?"

Requests by phone and email for an interview with Fulton for this story went unanswered. His mobile phone was disconnected and calls to a home listed in the phone book returned a perpetual busy signal.

"I don't know and can't say the extent of his involvement, if any, at this time, but he's not a defendant," said Wayne Ross, Fulton's lawyer. Ross said he remains in touch with Fulton, speaking with him in the past week.

But at the surplus store, Giles said he had not heard or seen Fulton for almost a month.

"I don't know what the hell he got into or whatever. It's still up in the air," Giles said. "I don't want to have anything to do with it."

Standing in a room behind Giles, a man scraped the Dropzone parachute logo off a sign.

"There's too much negativity. Everything's negative around it, so why would I keep it?" Giles said.

Ross met Giles at the store in the days after the Fairbanks arrests, Giles said. Papers from Fulton said that if he signed on the line, Giles would take ownership of the store's inventory and also Dropzone's outstanding debt, Giles said. The building is rented, he said.

Giles said he used to see Fulton every day at work for the past two years.

"If he does try to contact me, I don't know if I'm going to yell at him or thank him or what," he said about two weeks ago.

"I felt guilty, and I still kind of feel like I owe him something for giving me the place."

'BILL'

According to state charging documents, Lonnie Vernon, 55, and the Peacemakers' 27-year-old leader, Schaeffer Cox, negotiated in February for illegal weapons with a man named "Bill" in Anchorage.

The discussion of prices for pistols with silencers and functional grenades from "Bill" went through an unnamed member of their own militia.

On March 10, officers arrested Cox, Vernon and his wife, Karen Vernon, 64, and Coleman Barney, 36. Nobody named Bill or William was charged.

With the militia leaders in custody, the agents scoured their homes, seizing documents, firearms, bulletproof vests and handwritten notes with names and addresses.

Among items taken from Barney's North Pole home was a small grenade launcher and plans for a submarine. Agents at the Vernons' house in Salcha found a booby trap device and seized numerous firearms and handwritten notes with names and addresses.

A trailer, found in a public parking lot, held several more guns and grenades, among other weapons.

The gun Cox sought in late February from the man called "Bill" was a Springfield Armory XD model 9mm with a silencer, according to the state charging document.

THE SPRINGFIELD CONNECTION

A Springfield 9mm also shows up in a recently unsealed affidavit by an Anchorage special agent assigned to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Special Agent Patrick Westerhaus' affidavit revealed that two undercover informants made recordings of the militia members' discussions about buying guns, silencers and grenades.

One of the sources was identified in public court filings only as CS-1, a convicted felon who infiltrated the militia in Fairbanks. The man hopes to get leniency in state court for helping the investigation: He has pending felony fraud charges in Alaska, according to Westerhaus' affidavit.

The other informant, CS-2, was known by the militia members to be a man in Anchorage who could get them guns and grenades. Cox wanted a Springfield 9mm with a silencer from the man, the agent's affidavit shows.

The federal government is paying both informants, who each reported to agents for about 10 months on the Peacemakers' case, Westerhaus wrote.

Vernon and the embedded informant approached CS-2 at an Anchorage militia convention in early February and asked about getting weapons.

The "Bill" in the state document and "CS-2" in the federal appear to be the same person: the Anchorage gun dealer who was supposed to provide Cox with a Springfield 9mm and matching silencer.

The federal affidavit says "on or about Feb. 27" at Barney's house Cox asked a militia member about buying a Springfield from CS-2 . According to the state charges, Cox talked about getting the same gun from the man named "Bill" in a meeting at Barney's house Feb. 26, apparently the same meeting.

CS-2 was set to sell Cox grenades, guns and silencers in Fairbanks on March 10, the day of the arrests.

According to the federal indictments, Cox, Barney, and Lonnie and Karen Vernon all received and paid for the weapons on March 10. Unbeknownst to them, the grenades were duds.

A judge later ordered Cox, Barney and the Vernons held without bail.

Bill Fulton disappeared around the same time.

MERE SPECULATION?

"He's a pretty straight-shooting guy," said attorney Ross of his client Fulton.

Ross wasn't sure how Fulton's beliefs matched the militia members', if at all. The extremists worried Ross, a longtime gun-rights advocate.

"When you get these groups forming, it hurts the average gun owner, and I think Bill feels the same," Ross said. "Some people, if they don't go to the ballot box, they go to the bullet box."

Ross said Fulton would've made a good soldier or a cop. Giles said Fulton had previously served in the Army.

Both Ross and Giles, in separate interviews, thought the questions about whether Fulton was the "Bill" working with authorities were provocative but unproven.

"Makes for some interesting speculation, doesn't it?" Ross said.

Giles said he'd be surprised if Fulton turned out to be a government informant, because he didn't think Fulton could keep a secret like that to himself.

Giles described Fulton as sometimes "over-the-top aggressive," but said Fulton had a big heart and good intentions.

"Rude and rough," Giles said. "A tough-love guy."

That was part of why Giles liked working with Fulton, and the "politically incorrect" attitude at the store, which still has signs warning that hippies must enter through the back door.

And the store looks the same as before Fulton disappeared. Old military uniforms are still in front. Fifteen pictures of men and women caught during Fulton's bounty-hunting days cling on a wall in the back office, all stamped "apprehended."

On the front counter is a box of Fulton's old business cards.

On one side the cards say "Dropzone: When it counts." Giles offers to write the new website address on the back of one: 907anchorageakarmysurplus.com.

He isn't worried about talking to Fulton any more, Giles said Saturday.

"Nope, and at this point you can tell I don't care any more."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

PDF: Cox
Vernon
By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com