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Refuge Occupier Ryan Payne Pleads Guilty

<p>Ryan Payne, considered one of the leaders of the occupation, pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge on Tuesday, July 19.</p>

Amanda Peacher


Ryan Payne, considered one of the leaders of the occupation, pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge on Tuesday, July 19.

Ryan Payne, one of the leaders of occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Tuesday pleaded guilty to conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs.

“I plead guilty, your honor,” Payne said to U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown on Tuesday.

Prosecutors dismissed a second charge against Payne, possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities.

The deal Payne struck with prosecutors recommends he be sentenced to somewhere between 41 and 51 months in prison, but Brown has the ultimate say over Payne’s sentencing. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of six years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Payne also admitted to being a leader of the occupation and training others in tactical defenses during his time on the refuge.

Because Payne pleaded guilty to a federal felony, he will no longer be able to legally possess firearms.

Payne is a military veteran from Montana. He’s also been charged in Nevada related to a 2014 armed standoff there between rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel told the court that prosecutors in Nevada have extended a plea offer to Payne. He would be required to plead guilty to use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, among other charges. That firearm charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for each conviction.

Gabriel made clear in court that Payne had been cooperative with police when he was arrested, even as others did not.

Gabriel said prosecutors in Nevada are recommending a 12-year sentence for Payne. He said prosecutors in Oregon and Nevada worked together in crafting the plea agreement and recommend that any sentence be served concurrently.

Payne will now head to Nevada to work with his counsel there before heading back to Oregon for sentencing in November.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.