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But it wasn't just the haphazard way in which the IRS branded him a dangerous criminal that frightened Ellena.

This, after all, was the summer of 1992, when white supremacist and tax dodger Randy Weaver was blockaded inside his Idaho cabin, surrounded by federal agents and sniper teams who killed both his pregnant wife and son. The Constitutionalist cadre nationwide was on full alert, certain that this tragedy marked the beginning of martial law.

It didn't take much for a man like Ellena to imagine that federal agents would target him in much the same way.

So he made a decision that he admits, in retrospect, was a horrendous mistake.
Ellena packed up a few belongings, abandoning the rest, and fled his Payson cabin to become a federal fugitive.

For more than a year, he was on the lam, living a hand-to-mouth existence as "Samuel Jeremiah Johnson," a heavily bearded itinerant worker. Ellena shoveled snow, picked crops and labored on a ranch, hiding from a system that he was certain had marked him for death.

He wandered aimlessly from Washington state to Alaska, where he finally got steady work in construction and lived on an old boat in Wrangell, a small town about 160 miles south of Juneau.

That's where authorities, tipped off by a citizen who recognized Ellena's face on a wanted poster, found him in November 1993. A frightened, shaking Ellena was rousted one morning by five local police officers, an army of state troopers and U.S. marshals, a Coast Guard cutter carrying a sniper team and a Blackhawk helicopter bearing more sharpshooters.

"It was like I was John Dillinger," Ellena remembers, grinning.
This public enemy was found with a shotgun and an old rifle given to him by his late father--hardly an impressive armory to hold in the wilds of Alaska. He was clapped in irons and brought to Arizona to stand trial.

@body:When Ellena arrived in Phoenix, prosecutors seemed almost embarrassed. They did not seem to know what to do with his case, which one U.S. Attorney's Office insider says "had clearly gotten out of hand."

The ludicrous assault charge had been watered down to three lesser counts of intimidating a federal official, obstructing and impeding the administration of revenue laws and attempted recovery of seized property. But the evidence for even these accusations seemed thin.

So prosecutors did what prosecutors unsure of their cases often do--bluster and fight on all the harder.

Although the government's designation of Ellena as armed and dangerous had been rebuffed, federal lawyers ardently resisted his request to be released to the custody of friends while awaiting trial, saying that since his comrades "shared his beliefs and ideology," they could not guarantee that Ellena would not flee.

Then, after months of delay, when it appeared that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Broomfield would reject the feds' argument on the grounds that it discriminated on the basis of thought and speech, prosecutors tried a new tactic.

In an extremely unusual move, they requested that Broomfield order a psychiatric examination of Ellena, saying they believed he was too "zealous" to stand trial. It was a polite way of suggesting that Ellena was insane.

Peter Morgan--a Constitutionalist who petitioned the court to release Ellena into his custody--notes that it is the defense that is supposed to invoke the insanity plea, and says that prosecutors were trying to "brand Frank as crazy because they didn't have a case against him."

"That way, they could get out of trying a case for which they had no evidence, but still discredit him as nuts," Morgan says.

If that was the aim, prosecutors were sorely disappointed. The psychiatric report noted that while Ellena's beliefs were "on the fringe of mainstream society," he was unquestionably sane. The examining doctor even went beyond normal protocol to lodge an impassioned plea with the judge for Ellena's immediate release.

While the wheels of justice slowly turned, Ellena languished in a Phoenix jail for five months, even though federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of only six months for a conviction on all the charges against him.

To be sure, he contributed to the delays. Tapping his wellspring of conspiracy theories, Ellena alienated Broomfield and consumed hours of court time claiming that the judge was under the authority of those ubiquitous foreign agents, and that the court was actually a "military tribunal" with no jurisdiction over his actions.

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Darrin Hostetler

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