TAMPA — Wet and hungry, Martin Winters, the Valrico “doomsday prepper” authorities have been hunting for the past two days, turned himself in at the Tampa FBI office Wednesday and is being held without bond.
Winters, who leads a group called the River Otter Preppers, is charged with manufacturing and selling destructive devices and illegally purchasing AR-15 rifles in preparation for “an end-of-times event as prophesied by the Book of Revelations,”according to a probable cause affidavit.
Winters, 55, peacefully surrendered at the FBI field office at about 10 a.m. Wednesday after a three-day manhunt, said FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier. Agents described him as “amicable” and “cordial.”
“He was very cooperative the entire time,” Couvertier said.
Winters was immediately taken into custody. He was hungry, so authorities bought him some cheeseburgers and Gatorade, Couvertier said. One of the agents offered Winters a spare pair of socks and sneakers to replace his wet shoes and socks.
“We’re very thankful and we really appreciate his actions today,” Couvertier said during a press conference. “We’re extremely thankful that no one, no one at all, was hurt.”
Winters had been on the run since Monday morning, when authorities approached his car to arrest him on the gun- and weapons-related charges. He sped away, nearly striking two officers with his truck, before eventually abandoning his car and fleeing on foot in the wooded area at Turkey Creek Road and Cheryl Court, authorities said.
Investigators do not know for sure where Winters had been hiding since Monday, Couvertier said, but based on his condition Wednesday morning, they assume he had been in the woods.
The FBI began investigating Winters late last year, according to court records. Over the course of several months, Winters met with an undercover FBI employee multiple times and described his plans for an apocalyptic event.
According to court records, he told the investigator about barrels buried on his property that were packed with AR-15 rifles, ammunition and bullet-proof vests that he purchased through straw buyers. He also showed the agent several booby traps he had built to use on federal agents, according to the affidavit.
One device was made of plastic piping that used compressed air to shoot out fish hooks to trap and immobilize intruders. A second booby trap consisted of metal pipes that were designed to fire 12-gauge shotgun shells.
Winters, clad in a Duck Dynasty T-shirt, made his first appearance in federal court on Wednesday afternoon, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. Some of his family members — including his three daughters — cried when he walked in with chains around his wrists and ankles.
A search of several of Winters’ properties, including his home at 3032 Williams Blvd., uncovered several rifles — some purchased legally and some not — and four of the homemade booby traps, federal prosecutors said.
Ellis Faught, Jr., Winters’ lawyer, told the judge that Winters is a “doomsday prepper” who has also stored hundreds of barrels of food on his property. He believes that the end-of-times is coming and wants to be ready, Faught said about his client.
“Then and only then is he prepared to do what he talked to the agent about,” he said.
But Judge Thomas Wilson was not convinced. He denied bond for Winters, calling him a flight risk and a danger to law enforcement and the community.
“This is not just talk,” Wilson said. “There were, in fact, destructive devices found.”
The decision to hold Winters without bail seems unfair to John Kuntz, a former neighbor and longtime friend of Winters. During the manhunt, the FBI encouraged Winters to surrender and made it seem like all he had to do was go to a court hearing and then he would be released on bail, Kuntz said.
“Everything he feared from our government? Look at it.”