Sovereign Citizen Lured FBI Into Home With ‘Indiana Jones’ Booby Traps
Gregory Rodvelt was ordered to sell his house after losing a $2.1 million judgment from his mom. He didn’t take kindly to that order, the feds allege.
Gregory Rodvelt’s real-estate lawyer called police when he saw the signs on Rodvelt’s property, which warned that the home was full of homemade booby traps.
The warnings proved true when an FBI agent investigated the home in September and was shot by a booby-trapped wheelchair.
Rodvelt, a 66-year-old alleged sovereign citizen, has been been inside Oregon and Arizona courts for years on various charges of domestic violence and last year for an armed standoff on a highway. After his 90-year-old mother filed and won a $2.1 million elder abuse case against him in 2016, Rodvelt was ordered to sell his home. Instead, he rigged it with bizarre booby traps, federal authorities claim in a criminal complaint that likens his residence to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In 2017, Rodvelt made headlines for barricading himself inside an SUV with a gun and refusing to leave an Arizona highway. He was charged with unlawful possession of explosives.
"He continued to yell that he was not going to comply with officers' commands and that he was not going to exit the vehicle," Surprise, Arizona police officer Tom Klarkowski told local news.
JJ McNab, a researcher on anti-government extremism, classified Rodvelt as a so-called sovereign citizen in a March 2018 report on extremist plots. The loosely affiliated sovereign citizen movement claims its members are not United States citizens, but independent of the U.S. and its laws. Adherents might preach any number of anti-government conspiracy theories, such as the idea that they don’t have to pay taxes because the IRS spells citizens’ names in capital letters. Sovereign citizens have been linked to a number of violent attacks on law enforcement.
In 2016, Rodvelt’s mother filed a lawsuit against Rodvelt, the Oregonian first reported. His mother won a $2.1 million judgement, the paper reported. In August, a local judge ordered Rodvelt to forfeit his home, and appointed real estate attorney Joseph Charter “as the receiver of the property and authorizing Charter to take possession of the property, clean the property and ultimately sell the property,” according to court records.
Rodvelt had been jailed awaiting trial for his 2017 standoff with Arizona police, but was briefly released to help turn over his Oregon home. Shortly after Rodvelt’s release, Charter stopped by the 15-acre property, “he noted a sign warning that the property was protected by improvised devices,” the criminal complaint reads.
Charter called police. Rodvelt has been involved in a series of violent incidents, and was convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse in 2000. In 2016, one of Rodvelt’s friends accused Rodvelt of punching him in the eye for driving too slowly, leading the friend to shoot Rodvelt until Rodvelt hid behind a refrigerator.
Police noted Rodvelt’s pending explosives case and called an FBI bomb squad.
When the bomb squad approached Rodvelt’s home on September 7, “they noted a minivan parked in a manner as to prevent vehicles from driving past the front gate.”
The vans were rigged with steel-tooth traps, the kind “commonly used to trap wild animals.” The group pressed on until the reached a gate, which was attached to a trigger switch, which was attached to a precariously balanced hot tub.
“Upon closer examination, the technicians discovered that the spa was rigged in such a manner that when the gate was opened it would activate a mechanical trigger that would cause the spa to roll towards the person at the gate much like a scene from the movie ‘Indiana Jones - Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in which actor Harrison Ford is forced to outrun a giant stone boulder that he inadvertently triggered by a booby trap switch,” the complaint reads.
The garage contained rat traps that could fire bullets when the garage door opened. The group exploded Rodvelt’s front door, and found tripwire immediately inside. None of the agents are sure what triggered a wheelchair to start rolling toward them. Before they could respond, the chair exploded, firing a pellet into one FBI agent’s leg.
But Rodvelt wasn’t on the property. Police in Surprise, Arizona, the same town where he’d been involved in an armed standoff against police, arrested him at a grocery store later that day on charges of assaulting a federal officer.
Asked about the booby traps in his home, Rodvelt cited Indiana Jones as the inspiration for his hot tub trap, and referenced other booby traps (more tripwires, a spike strip that would destroy car tires) that investigators hadn’t discovered on their first sweep of the property.
When investigators asked whether they should be aware of any remaining booby traps, Rodvelt hesitated.
“I would not race right in,” he answered.