Alice man's father, friend make allegations against marshals

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

A hearing is scheduled Monday in U.S. District Court in the case of Cirino "Reno" Gonzalez, an Alice tax protester who was arrested Wednesday in a raid by federal agents.

The detention hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday before Judge Janice Ellington in Corpus Christi. The purpose of that hearing will be to determine the amount of Gonzalez's bail and to discuss extradition proceedings, court officials said.

In an interview Friday, Cirino's father, Jose Gonzalez, and Donna VanMeter, who was with Cirino at the time of his arrest, complained of what they said was mistreatment by the U.S. Marshals service and local law enforcement.

Jose Gonzalez was pulled over in Robstown while driving to Corpus Christi Wednesday shortly before his son's arrest, and was detained for more than an hour while authorities attempted to identify him, he said.

"They pulled me out and frisked me, and started asking me questions," Gonzalez said. "They kept threatening me and telling me that they were going to throw me in jail."

Gonzalez was eventually released without being charged.

VanMeter said she joined Reno in Indiana shortly after he left the Browns' home in July, and both of them came to Texas.

She was in the Gonzalez home on Wright Street with Reno and his brother Romeo Gonzalez, a Premont police officer, at the time of the raid, and was handcuffed and questioned for several hours before she was released.

"They kept asking me about all the guns, and I told them that a police officer lived there," VanMeter said, referring to Romeo Gonzalez.

VanMeter also said that she, Reno and Romeo Gonzalez all asked repeatedly to see a warrant authorizing the search of the home, but authorities refused to show them a warrant.

When asked about a warrant Thursday, U.S. Marshal David Turner said a warrant was on file with the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi.

VanMeter also complained that an Indiana identification card was taken from her at the time of her arrest, and authorities did not return it to her until Friday morning.

Gonzalez said 13 guns were taken from the home Wednesday as part of the raid, and he filed a stolen items report with the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department, because a warrant had not been shown during the search.

Seven of those guns had been returned by the Marshals by Friday, and three more guns were expected to be returned on Saturday, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he attempted to contact the mayor and the city manager about the incident, but both had declined to meet with him.

"On Wednesday, there were crimes committed by federal agents, just doing their job, against Texans, against Aliceans," Gonzalez said. "My local government doesn't want to talk to me."

The U.S. Marshals service said Wednesday Gonzalez was one of four men arrested for assisting Ed and Elaine Brown, a husband and wife who have been convicted of tax evasion. The Browns have remained in their Plainfield, N.H., home since that conviction, and have repeatedly threatened to kill anyone who attempts to arrest them.

In addition to Gonzalez, Daniel Riley, 40, of Albany, N.Y.; Jason Gerhard, 22, of Brookhaven, N.Y., and Robert Wolffe, 50, of Randolph, Vt., are now in U.S. Marshals custody, and face charges that range from Accessory After the Fact (aiding and abetting) to Possession and Use of a Firearm in Relation to a Crime of Violence.

The indictments against the men allege that each of them has helped obstruct justice in the Brown case. According to the U.S. Marshals service, officials believe that at certain times the men participated in various efforts to assist the Browns in avoiding justice at their rural home in western New Hampshire and conspired to impede federal agents.

"In this case, these men are alleged to have helped the Browns in their ongoing refusal to surrender to authorities," said Marshal Stephen Monier, who is in charge of the Browns' case. "The Browns have engaged in a course of conduct that has led to further criminal investigations into their activity. Anyone who aids the Browns is subject to investigation, arrest, and prosecution for serious felonies, which carry very heavy prison sentences."

When asked if charges were pending against Jose Gonzalez or VanMeter, U.S. Marshal David Turner said Thursday he could not discuss potential operations.

Monier said the Brown cases has escalated since their initial conviction.

"This was a tax case," Monier added, "but over the last seven months, the Browns have allegedly: obstructed justice and encouraged others to assist them. Ed Brown has threatened to kill law enforcement officers and other governmental officials. So, our message to the Browns is clear: do the right thing, call us and surrender peacefully."