U.S. Attorney's Office
District of South Dakota
(605) 330-4400
January 6, 2015

Alabama Man Sentenced for Felon in Possession of Firearm, Impersonating a Federal Officer, Interstate Stalking, and Tampering with a Witness

United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced that an Alabaster, Alabama, man convicted of Felon in Possession of Firearm, Impersonating a Federal Officer, Interstate Stalking, and Tampering with a Witness, was sentenced on January 6, 2015, by U.S. District Judge Roberto A. Lange. In October of 2014, Thetford was found guilty by a federal jury, following a 5-day trial in Pierre, South Dakota.

Michael Thetford, a/k/a Russ LNU, age 37, was sentenced to 70 months in custody, to be served consecutively to his sentence imposed in a separate Alabama case, three years of supervised release, and a $400 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. He was also ordered to forfeit a firearm he used when he impersonated a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officer.

On December 14, 2011, Thetford was indicted by a federal grand jury on a three-count Indictment. On February 12, 2014, a Superseding Indictment was filed adding the Tampering with a Witness charge.

The South Dakota convictions stem from an incident occurring on May 28, 2010, when the victims, William Jack Winslett and Shirley Winslett, a married couple, were living at their home in rural Hughes County. The victims also own property and other assets in Alabama. That afternoon, Thetford came to their door posing as a Special Agent with the FBI. Thetford was wearing a dark suit, displayed FBI and military credentials, had a pistol on his hip, and identified himself as “Agent Russ.” Thetford accused the victims of being involved in drug trafficking and other criminal matters. The victims believed he was an actual FBI Agent. Thetford informed the victims they needed to accompany him to a polygraph examination in Sioux City, Iowa, indicating they could be arrested at the end of the interview. Thetford told them they would need to bring their computers, so they produced their computers for the trip to Sioux City. Thetford directed the victims into the back seat of his vehicle, which had locked back-seat doors.

Thetford drove the victims toward Sioux City, but stopped at Humboldt, South Dakota, where he informed the victims that he had received a cell phone call which cleared them of the drug investigation. He said a different arrest was in the process of being made, and he would return them home. On the drive home, there was friendlier talk with the victims. Thetford learned both victims were shooting sport enthusiasts, and learned Mr. Winslett had a knack for gunsmithing. Ultimately, Thetford left his pistol with the victims, asking that Mr. Winslett do some repair work on the trigger. On June 4, 2010, Thetford, posing as “Agent Russ” sent the Winsletts an e-mail indicating an arrest had been made and he would enter them into a victim compensation program.

Over the course of several following months, the Winsletts had trouble maintaining contact with “Agent Russ” and began to doubt he was an actual FBI Agent. The FBI began to track Thetford’s travel to and from South Dakota between May 25 and May 29, 2010.

Around November 16, 2011, federal search warrants were obtained for Thetford’s home in Alabaster, Alabama. Numerous items of evidence were found, including fake FBI badges, fake military credentials, fake credentials for surgeons, fake Immigration and Customs Enforcement uniforms and credentials, pepper spray, handcuffs, computers, and molds and materials to make other law enforcement badges and credentials.

Thetford was tracked over three days and arrested on November 19, 2011, after he fled on foot from pursuing FBI agents through a rural wooded area known as Confederate Memorial Park in Alabama. After his arrest, Thetford sent a letter to a family member asking the family member to track down a laptop computer that he did not want law enforcement authorities to find. The laptop computer, and other computer media seized from his home, connected Thetford to a plot to defraud the Winsletts by illegally transferring their Alabama real estate and other property and assets to himself and his land surveying business. Thetford unlawfully used fake notary credentials to make transfer paperwork look legitimate. Thetford’s associate testified at trial that Thetford wanted to take and sell the victims’ Alabama property, so Thetford traveled to South Dakota in May of 2010 to investigate the victims and determine if they had plans to come back to Alabama.

Though incarcerated on other Alabama charges, around February 13, 2013, Thetford sent a letter to the Winsletts that served to threaten and intimidate the victims. The letter sought to have the Winsletts stop cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities and withhold testimony.

Based upon the investigation that began in South Dakota and continued in Alabama, as well as searches of his home computers, Alabama authorities pursued charges for child pornography, illegal possession of several firearms at his Alabama home, and wire fraud. On June 27, 2013, Thetford was sentenced in the Northern District of Alabama to 26 and 1/2 years for four charges: production of child pornography, receipt of child pornography, felon in possession of firearms, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Judge Lange ordered that Thetford shall serve his 6 year South Dakota sentence consecutively to, or after, he completes his Alabama sentence.

This case was investigated by the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the Pierre FBI office, the Birmingham, Alabama FBI office, the United States Marshals Service, the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch Investigative Analysis Unit, and other local law enforcement agencies in Alabama. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Maher prosecuted the case.

Thetford was immediately turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving his sentence.

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