- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah militia group leader with ties to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges alleging he tried to blow up a federally owned cabin.

William Keebler, 57, is accused of scouting a mosque, a Bureau of Land Management office and U.S. military facilities as possible targets before choosing the rural Arizona cabin. He was angry about public land policies he saw as federal overreach, prosecutors contend.

Keebler is facing one count of attempting to damage federal property and one count of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence in a grand jury indictment handed down Wednesday.

Each charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and Keebler could face up to life in prison if convicted on the second count alone. His trial was set for Sept. 12.

Prosecutor Andrew Choate said there’s a large amount of evidence in the case.

The device didn’t do any damage because it was inert, built by undercover FBI agents who had infiltrated his small group that otherwise amounted to about four people.

Defense attorneys are considering an appeal of a decision that kept Keebler in jail ahead of trial, his lawyer Lynn Donaldson said Wednesday. Keebler’s friend Lor Potts has said he isn’t violent and the agents set him up, encouraging the use of explosives.

Prosecutors say Keebler asked the agents to make the device, and he was willing to shoot any agents who responded to the explosion in the northern Arizona area of Mt. Trumbull on June 21.

Donaldson has said the allegations about other targets are exaggerated and what he’s accused of may have been closer to civil disobedience.

Federal authorities started investigating Keebler after he took part in a 2014 armed standoff with federal officials at Bundy’s Nevada ranch over unpaid grazing fees.

Keebler was also an associate of Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who served as a spokesman for Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy, and other ranchers involved in an armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge earlier this year. Finicum was shot and killed by authorities during a Jan. 26 traffic stop that led to Ammon Bundy’s arrest.

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