A former fugitive from North Idaho with ties to the Aryan Nations was sentenced this week in Albuquerque, N.M., to 41 months in federal prison for illegal possession of firearms.
R. Vincent Bertollini began to cry Tuesday as he explained to the court how a series of drunken driving tickets he got in North Idaho led him to become a fugitive for five years before his capture in New Mexico in April 2006.
He vanished from Sandpoint in July 2001, shortly before he was to stand trial on a felony drunken driving charge that could have led to two years in prison.
In U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Tuesday, his attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael Keefe, argued that his 67-year-old client should be sentenced to only 15 months in custody, in part because he has never been in a federal prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Yarbrough urged the court to sentence Bertollini within the 46- to 57-month sentencing range, giving him credit for “acceptance of responsibility” by pleading guilty, rather than taking the case to trial.
During the sentencing hearing, Bertollini took the stand and claimed he had been truthful when interviewed by FBI agents who questioned him about his ties to white supremacists while a fugitive.
When the prosecutor asked Bertollini about his Aryan Nations tattoo, Bertollini responded that he didn’t think that was relevant.
Bertollini’s estranged wife, Leslie Bert, and daughter, Laura Kosky, both sent letters that were put in the public court file, appealing for leniency.
U.S. District Court Judge James Browning sentenced Bertollini to 41 months, giving him credit for five months in custody while being transferred from state to federal custody.
With credit for good time, Bertollini’s earliest release date would be in early 2010.
When he was arrested in Santa Fe, N.M., FBI agents found a loaded sawed-off shotgun and a loaded handgun in his pickup and seven more firearms in a trailer where he had stayed with his estranged wife.
Bertollini was indicted on a charge of being a fugitive in possession of firearms. But before those federal charges were adjudicated in New Mexico, Bertollini was extradited back to North Idaho.
In Bonner County he faced two felony charges, bail jumping and felony driving while under the influence. The latter charge was filed after Bertollini was arrested for drunken driving for a third time in less than five years. He was sentenced last August to six months in jail; after serving that time he was returned to New Mexico to face federal charges.
Bertollini, a former Silicon Valley business executive, moved to North Idaho in the late 1990s and, with multimillionaire Carl Story, formed the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger.
The organization had a Web site and spent thousands of dollars for mass mailings of Aryan Nations videotapes and posters attempting to explain the religious doctrine behind the racist Christian Identity belief.
When Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler lost his 20-acre white supremacy compound near Hayden Lake as the outgrowth of a civil suit in 2000, Bertollini came to the financial rescue and bought Butler a home in Hayden. It served as the Aryan Nations headquarters until Butler’s death in August 2004.