Neighbors say the convicted felon and outspoken member of the Aryan Nations intimidated, threatened and sued neighbors so often that his presence became "a total cancer."
For years, Keith D. Gilbert has cut a wide swath in the Roosevelt neighborhood where he managed a collection of rental properties, neighbors say.
They say that since the early 1990s, Gilbert, a convicted felon and outspoken member of the Aryan Nations who once spent time in prison for plotting to kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had intimidated, threatened and sued neighbors so often that his presence became “a total cancer.”
“Everyone was scared to death of him,” said Pat Strosahl, former president of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association. “For years we tried to get action on him but nobody would really do anything.”
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But Gilbert today is in federal custody, charged with selling automatic weapons to an undercover informant and being a felon in possession of a firearm, charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Gilbert, 65, has prior convictions for assault, drug distribution and other crimes.
A friend of Gilbert’s, William D. Heinrich, 50, also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Gilbert and Heinrich were arrested early yesterday morning by federal agents who swooped down on their Roosevelt-neighborhood homes with search warrants. Agents spent most of the afternoon at the homes seizing and cataloging evidence that included dozens of weapons and piles of ammunition.
Out on Gilbert’s front lawn, in front of a growing crowd on the sidewalk, the agents stacked and sorted dozens of guns — mostly assault rifles of all shapes and sizes, but also numerous pistols. Hundreds of ammunition clips and bullets were neatly arranged in clear-plastic storage bins.
Also arrested, in Grays Harbor County, was 44-year-old John P. Hejna, who is accused in a separate case of selling plastic explosives to the same informant.
Two other men charged in the explosives case remain at large: Barton L. Carter and Alen J. Long.
It is unclear what, if any, connection authorities have between the explosives case and the weapons charges, except that the same informant was used in each case.
According to charging papers, the informant told an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that Gilbert was involved in selling firearms, something he was prohibited from doing because of his felony convictions. The informant bought two machine guns from Gilbert, and the transactions were recorded and videotaped, the documents state.
Heinrich, who lived around the corner from Gilbert near Roosevelt High School, offered to sell the informant a 9 mm handgun, according to the documents.
There are no allegations in the charging documents suggesting the men had plans to do anything with the weapons other than sell them.
Gilbert, however, has a history that has caused considerable concern among neighbors for years.
He was arrested in 1965 and convicted of possessing 1,400 pounds of stolen dynamite and plotting to use it to blow up a Hollywood stage where King was making a speech. After serving five years in prison, Gilbert moved to Idaho and struck up a relationship with Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler. The two later had a falling-out.
Gilbert later founded the Socialist Nationalist Aryan People’s Party, which considered Adolf Hitler a prophet. He tried to recruit members from Butler’s organization; Butler once alleged that Gilbert was behind a bombing at the Aryan Nations compound in the early 1980s.
In the mid-1980s Gilbert was convicted in Idaho of interfering with housing rights through force or threat. According to a federal court opinion, Gilbert sent hate mail to an adoption agency that placed black children with white families. Later, Gilbert nearly ran down one of the adopted children with his car and sicced his St. Bernard on another, according to a federal indictment.
Gilbert claimed that the hate mail was protected speech. The federal court disagreed, saying the letter was clearly a threat.
“Evidence at Gilbert’s trial showed that he was a racist and a bigot, that he believed White Aryans should not be in contact with any other race, that he believed children born to parents of differing races were not human, and that he embraced some Nazi doctrine,” the opinion said. “The letter was accompanied by posters calling for a revolution — a term fraught with violence — and advocating lynch mobs, the shooting of black miscegenists, and the hanging of whites.”
Gilbert later moved into the Roosevelt neighborhood and formed a business relationship with well-known Roosevelt-area landlords Hugh and Drake “Ducky” Sisley. At one point he oversaw dozens of Sisley properties. Neighbors say Gilbert, who sports a unkempt ZZ Top-style beard and long ponytail, helped carry out evictions and other business for the Sisleys.
“He came into our house and tried to evict us with about five of his goons,” Taavi McMahon recalled of an incident in the mid-1990s over Gilbert’s attempt to suddenly raise the rent. When McMahon called police, Gilbert used another tactic: He filed for a protection order against McMahon, claiming that McMahon had threatened him. When that didn’t work, Gilbert sued.
After a legal battle that lasted several years, McMahon said, he was vindicated.
When contacted yesterday, Drake Sisley’s wife said her husband was no longer associated with Gilbert. Neither Sisley brother returned telephone messages.
Former officials of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association tell stories similar to McMahon’s.
For example, the association suggested some zoning changes that would have affected property the Sisleys and Gilbert wanted to develop. Although the changes were never adopted by the city, Gilbert sued neighborhood officials anyway, claiming racketeering and civil-rights violations. The case was thrown out, but not before a considerable court fight.
Said neighbor Jerry Alexander of the arrest, “It’s something we’ve longed for for years.”
Times researcher Miyoko Wolf and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org