- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A federal jury in South Dakota has found an Alabama man guilty of impersonating an FBI agent in 2010.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said Michael Thetford, 38, of Alabaster, Alabama, was also convicted last week of possession of a firearm, interstate stalking and tampering with witnesses. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 38 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Thetford showed up at the rural Hughes County home of William and Shirley Winslett in May 2010, claimed he was an FBI agent and accused the couple of being involved in drug trafficking and other crimes. He identified himself as “Agent Russ,” displayed FBI and military credentials, and carried a gun.

Prosecutors said Thetford told the couple they needed to undergo a polygraph test. Thetford drove the Winsletts toward Sioux Falls but stopped in Humboldt where he told them he had received a call that cleared them in the drug investigation.

Records show that on the drive back to the Winsletts’ home, Thetford learned they were shooting aficionados. He left his gun with the couple before leaving the property and asked William Winslett to repair the trigger.

Over the next several months the Winsletts questioned whether Thetford was a federal agent.

Thetford was arrested in November 2011 in Alabama, where he was tried and sentenced in June of last year to nearly 27 years in prison on child pornography and other charges.

Court records show Thetford entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in South Dakota in March 2013 that recommended eight years in prison to be served concurrently to the sentence imposed in Alabama. But a superseding indictment alleging witness tampering was obtained by South Dakota prosecutors in March 2014.

Prosecutors said Thetford sent a threatening letter to the Winsletts hoping to stop them from cooperating with authorities while he was being held in an Alabama jail.

An associate of Thetford testified at the trial that Thetford had planned to take possession of and sell a property in Alabama that belonged to the Winsletts, and he had traveled to South Dakota to investigate whether they planned to return to Alabama.

Thetford’s public defenders could not be reached Sunday. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Jan. 5.

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