updated 3/18/2011 7:57:17 AM ET 2011-03-18T11:57:17

An Alaska couple have been indicted on charges of conspiring to murder a federal judge, his family and an Internal Revenue Service employee because they were upset over tax rulings against them.

The indictment signed Thursday against Lonnie and Karen Vernon, of Salcha, also charges conspiracy to possess grenades and gun silencers.

Lonnie Vernon, 55, also is charged with illegal possession of a machine gun and a firearm equipped with a silencer.

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Two other Alaskans — citizen militia leader Francis Schaeffer Cox, of Fairbanks, and Coleman Barney, of North Pole — are also charged with Lonnie Vernon in a separate federal indictment alleging the three conspired to possess unregistered grenades and silencers. In that indictment, Cox also is charged with possession of an illegal machine gun and silencer.

Karen Loeffler, the U.S. attorney in Alaska, said the murder conspiracy indictment supersedes an earlier federal indictment charging 55-year-old Lonnie Vernon with threatening to kill U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline and a family member.

Loeffler called a late afternoon news conference Thursday to announce the indictments, but the documents and more details about the allegations were not immediately available.

If convicted of the federal murder conspiracy charge, the Vernons would face life in prison.

Vernon also is charged in state court for conspiring with his wife, Cox, Barney and Michael Anderson to kill a state judge and other public officials, including state troopers. Grand jury indictments are expected next week.

M.J. Haden, a federal public defender representing Lonnie Vernon, did not immediately return call from The Associated Press after business hours. Cox's attorney, Robert John, said he had not heard about the federal indictment.

"There's nothing for me to say until I've seen the indictment," he told the AP.

The Vernons have been in a federal court fight for nearly two years over income taxes, penalties and interest of more than $165,000 that the government says they owe. Federal tax attorneys filed liens on their home in Salcha, a Richardson Highway community 40 miles south of Fairbanks, and in July 2009 sued to foreclose on the property and sell it to reduce the tax obligation.

Beistline had overseen the Vernons' tax case.

'Open-carry' days
The original federal indictment released last week said Lonnie Vernon last month threatened to murder Beistline and a family member in retaliation for Beistline's rulings in the tax case.

Cox is a founder of the Second Amendment Task Force, a gun rights group that has organized several "open-carry" days, and he is leader of the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia, which contends that all individuals are sovereign citizens and that the government has no authority over them.

In March 2010, he was charged with misdemeanor weapons misconduct. Cox represented himself at a pretrial hearing in December, when he denied that the Alaska court system was a legitimate judiciary. He said he would not attend another court hearing until the court system explained its authority over him. A few days later, accompanied by militia members, he tried to serve paperwork on a District Court judge stating that the court lacked jurisdiction.

A warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear for trial Feb. 14. Cox later told the AP that he skipped the trial because the judge barred any reference to Cox's position on the validity of the law.

Prosecutors said Cox had multiple meetings with the command staff of the Peacekeepers Militia — including the Vernons, Barney and Anderson — in the weeks leading up to his trial date.

Retaliation plan?
A 17-page state complaint released last week accused Cox and the four others of conspiring since Oct. 1 to kill or kidnap state officials. An investigator said the five compiled locations of their victims' homes, took photos of at least one and acquired weapons. Cox and Barney were charged with felony weapons misconduct alleging they possessed an automatic assault rifle, military-issue pineapple grenades and black powder grenades.

Story: Alaska militia charged in murder-kidnap plot

Other weapons in the arsenal included a tripod-mounted, belt-fed .50-caliber gun, a tripod-mounted .30-caliber machine gun, a grenade launcher, dozens of rifles and pistols, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Their targets, according to investigators, included Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy and at least two troopers.

An investigator said Cox was recorded advocating a "241" retaliation plan, which stood for "two-for-one" — killing or kidnapping two state officials for every member of his group that was killed or arrested.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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