Idaho hate propagandists vanish

Bertollini disappears after third DUI charge; Story selling Sandpoint home

Spokane Spokesman Review/December 9, 2001
By Bill Morlin

Two former California men who used their wealth to mass-mail messages of hate have disappeared from Sandpoint, Idaho.

Human rights activists say they hope the departures of R. Vincent Bertollini and Carl E. Story spell the end of their 11th Hour Remnant Messenger organization.

"Some of us are thinking of having a 'Bye-bye, Bertie' party," said Sandpoint community activist Debbie Ferguson.

Bertollini disappeared last summer when he faced the possibility of going to prison. The 62-year-old self-described evangelist is now a federal fugitive, and apparently the focus of a grand jury investigation.

Story isn't wanted, but his house is up for sale, and the 68-year-old businessman hasn't been seen in recent weeks in Sandpoint.

Since 1998, the two-man organization mailed out thousands of white supremacy pamphlets, videos, posters and newsletters and operated a Web site, which remains active.

The organization developed ties with the Aryan Nations and America's Promise Ministries, which both promote brands of white supremacy religion.

Bertollini boasted in 1998 that the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger had spent $1.5 million on mass mailings, without a membership base or donations.

Those mailings and other activities by Bertollini and Story reinforced a national image problem for Sandpoint and North Idaho.

Bertollini ran unsuccessfully for Sandpoint mayor in 1999, collecting only 33 votes on his anti-diversity platform.

The 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, under Bertollini's signature, bought a $110,000 house in Hayden Lake for Richard Butler last year after he abandoned his Aryan compound in the wake of a $6.3 million civil judgment.

Always flashy, Bertollini rented a convertible and joined Butler for an Aryan Nations parade in downtown Coeur d'Alene in October 2000.

Bertollini promised that he and Butler were in the region to stay, and would use the Internet and direct mailings to promote their racist views.

"We're not going anywhere," Bertollini said.

He sat down at his computer early this year and posted an anti-Semitic message on his 11th Hour Web site that began: "This year is the beginning of great sorrows."

For him, the message was prophetic. He was arrested for drunken driving a few days later -- his third time in two years.

He couldn't find a lawyer to represent him, Bertollini claimed, and he failed in an attempt to move his DUI trial elsewhere.

Bertollini said in court papers that he couldn't get a fair trial in Bonner County because "I am a high-profile individual." He also accused all the county's judges of being biased against him.

He asked for a postponement of his trial so he could undergo eye surgery, but that request was denied.

Then, without explanation, Bertollini failed to show up for his trial in Sandpoint in July. District Court Judge James Michaud issued a bench warrant for his arrest, but deputies couldn't find him.

A few days earlier, a moving van was seen parked outside his home, which was for sale, neighbors say.

About that same time, his wife of more than 30 years said she wanted a divorce, acquaintances say.

Now, Bertollini is officially a federal fugitive, the object of an international manhunt.

Story, who has health problems, has put his $369,000 house in Sandpoint up for sale and reportedly is in California.

Law enforcement officials and others who know Bertollini say he's reportedly in Ireland, but his whereabouts couldn't be confirmed. There also are reports that he's in Costa Rica or the Virgin Islands.

Even his estranged wife, Leslie, can't locate him to serve divorce papers, said the couple's daughter, Lauri Kosky, of Santa Fe, N.M.

Leslie Bertollini, who also uses the name Leslie Bert, has moved from Sandpoint and declined requests to talk about her husband.

He also has used aliases, including Richard Bert and Vincent Bert.

Acquaintances say Leslie Bertollini doesn't share her husband's anti-Semitic views or religious beliefs that white people are God's chosen children.

"She's moved away from Sandpoint, and never intends on coming back," her daughter said.

The separation and pending divorce have been "very troubling on my mother," Kosky said.

His daughter's name was in the court record, listed among emergency contacts on Bertollini's driver's license, seized by police.

Another name on that list is Dick Leone, one of Bertollini's friends, who is on the board of directors of Northern Lights Inc., a member-owned rural electric cooperative. He refused to accept telephone calls to talk about Bertollini.

Leslie Bertollini sold the couple's Sandpoint house for $187,500 on Aug. 2, real estate records show.

The home, at 324 Remington Court, had been on the market for almost three years, originally listed at $249,700, the records show.

The house was on the verge of foreclosure when the sale occurred, according to real estate sources.

In a notarized warranty deed filed in Bonner County, Leslie Bertollini said she was an "unmarried woman."

Her husband quit-claimed his interest in the house to her in a deed that was signed April 23 but not filed with the county recorder until Aug. 21.

Federal authorities are interested in that transaction.

Last month, FBI agents served federal grand jury subpoenas in Sandpoint to obtain business records associated with the Bertollini house sale, sources confirmed.

It's unclear what possible crime a grand jury would be investigating. Federal authorities are prohibited by law from discussing grand jury probes.

They went after the business records a month after a U.S. magistrate issued a warrant for Bertollini's arrest, accusing him of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The unlawful flight warrant puts Bertollini's name in the National Crime Information Computer, telling police everywhere he's a wanted man.

Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson formally requested the federal unlawful flight warrant in September, two months after Bertollini failed to show up for his July trial.

"We had to guarantee that we'll extradite him from wherever he's located," Robinson said. "It may cost us thousands of dollars, but we'll do it. We do it on any felony."

If convicted, Bertollini faced the likelihood of one to 10 years in prison because it would be his third DUI in two years.

He forfeited $1,000 bond when he failed to show up for trial. The prosecutor said he doesn't regret the bond amount.

"We didn't have any reason to believe he'd leave the country," Robinson said. "We thought he'd show up, act as his own attorney and attempt to use the courtroom as his stage."

Bertollini was arrested about 11 p.m. on Jan. 12 after Sandpoint police spotted his maroon 1999 Ford Expedition driving in an erratic fashion near his home.

He was booked into the Bonner County Jail on charges of driving while under the influence and resisting arrest.

Immediately after his release from jail on bond, Bertollini alleged he was a victim of police brutality.

The self-styled evangelist sent out statements and posted a picture of his bloodied face on his 11th Hour Web site.

Sandpoint Police Chief Mark Lockwood didn't publicly respond to Bertollini's allegations of police brutality.

But the report of Officer Chris Bell was put in the court record. It says Bertollini was combative and verbally abusive to arresting officers, and appeared highly intoxicated as he used profanity-laced language.

He slipped and hit his face on his garage wall and floor while resisting arrest, Bell said in his report.

The FBI, which investigates civil rights complaints involving alleged police misconduct, opened an investigation.

The case was closed after Bertollini refused to talk with the FBI investigator.

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