FRESNO, Calif. — Forty Fresno-area residents, ranging in age from their
late 20s to early 80s, received a first-hand lesson in modern police tactics when three-dozen armed, flak-jacketed deputies of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department stormed an open public multi-level marketing meeting promoting, ironically, constitutional study materials and arrested three attendees.
Among those arrested was a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy. A retired sheriff’s deputy was later arrested at his home. The four were booked and charged with operating an illegal pyramid scheme, a felony.
Those not arrested were detained pursuant to questioning and “pat down”
searches. This included two elderly ladies.
The meeting — held Jan. 5 in a community meeting room of the Fashion
Fair Mall — had been called to promote a multi-level marketing program
developed by Constitutional Colleagues, a group headquartered in Evanston, Indiana. The products consist of some 20 video tapes and 13 audio tapes, comprising a course of study designed to deepen understanding and appreciation of the U.S. constitutution and American history. The course itself was created by Constitutional scholar Cleon Skousen; and Constitutional Colleagues has an exclusive marketing contract with Skousen and his organization, the National Center for Constitutional Studies.
Despite the existence of a clearly discernible product, the Sheriff’s
Department saw this as a pyramid scheme, that is, a financial
arrangement in which people make money — not through sale or exchange of something — but by recruiting people who in turn recruit others.
After a reported monthlong investigation, which included attending the
group’s four or five earlier presentations, 37 sheriff’s deputies were
sent to break up the meeting of the fledgling network. Additional
officers were dispatched to search the homes of the four arrestees.
“Here’s what you would have seen at that meeting,” said Blaine Williams,
45, one of those arrested and a presenter. Williams had just begun his
remarks when the deputies rushed into the room.
“It looked like a PTA meeting in the days when parents used to go to
PTA. We had a cross-section of people, anywhere from 27 to 83 that
moseyed on in. I was wearing a pair of cords and a shirt. We had school
teachers, government employees and little old ladies sitting there.”
Williams was promptly arrested and marched, in handcuffs, into an
adjoining room where he was sequestered for the rest of the raid.
But Fresno resident Curtis Riley, who was present at the bust, provided
WorldNetDaily with an eye-witness account in a telephone interview.
Riley had become an associate of Constitutional Colleagues at one of the
first meetings, not for the business opportunities, but because he
wanted himself and his family to be better informed about the
Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
“My wife and I, we’re college graduates,” he explained. “But when we
looked into this we realized we hadn’t learned enough about the
Constitution when we were at school. So we decided right then and there
that we and our children were going to get this information.”
He had attended the meetings, but had not recruited anyone into the
program. “Awesome,” is how he describes the materials.
Riley said he arrived about 7:45 p.m. The meeting had already started, and a chair was being used to hold the double door to the room open. When he set the chair aside, the door swung shut and automatically locked.
“I didn’t think anything about it,” he said, “But suddenly I heard this
banging on the door and someone was shouting, ‘This is the sheriff,
we’ve got a warrant.’ Well, I thought it was just kids goofing off,
since we were in a mall; but they kept banging on the door so I opened
it and WHAM — they just came running in. They grabbed one guy
immediately and put him right up against the wall. That was Pete — he’s
one of their own.”
The man subjected to this rough-handling and subsequently arrested was
Peter Plitt, 44, a sheriff’s deputy and bailiff. Riley described him as
an “avid churchgoer and as far as I know, a real nice guy.”
“But they put him up against the wall, and I thought, Wow, what’s he
done? And there were all these guys, they were coming in through the set
of double doors I opened and through the rear exits. I’m thinking they
were after a rapist or murderer. There were so many of them — and the
way they kept coming — it was mind boggling. I’ve never seen anything
The deputies were not carrying rifles or wearing ski masks.
“We could see their faces,” said Riley. “But they were wearing their
flak jackets and had sidearms, though they kept these in their
Riley watched as a deputy mounted the stage and proceeded to tell
everyone that they were “victims” of an illegal pyramid scheme that
would be explained in greater detail.
“I looked at him, and he looked at us — and I think he saw all those
video tapes and the rest of the stuff on the tables,” Riley recalled,
and noted that the deputy “kind of stumbled on what he was going to
“I don’t think he realized we actually had something to sell,” said
Everyone present was “frisked” and had to show identification and the
contents of their pockets and handbags. But they were not detained long;
about 10 minutes, according to Riley. With a ratio of almost one officer
per attendee, questioning was prompt. Another person, also present,
reported that some of the deputies stood around munching the donuts that
had been provided by Constitutional Colleagues.
Riley said he was not frightened at first, but as the scene unfolded, he
realized how this kind of action by sheriff deputies could directly
affect him. Although he has a full-time job, he is also involved in
“I became more and more upset about what was going on and how it went
on. I’m in network marketing, I have my own company — and as this
happened I thought: ‘Man, this kind of thing could happen when I’m doing
one of my meetings.'”
Blaine Williams is even more explicit, and describes himself as
“We were proud of what we were doing — I called it, ‘the Re-education of
America.’ I’ve done radio interviews, and I’ve been on TV. I said that
when people understood what the Founding Fathers stood for they’d be
inspired and their lives would be changed.
“I’m stunned and perplexed as to what the motivations behind this could
“But it’s chilling. If this can happen to us, it can happen to any
businessman or private citizen in America. I’m particularly outraged,
because those ladies in their 80s that were there represented my mom.
When I watched what happened, I knew that could have been my mom sitting in that chair.
“And when those 50 officers — that includes those involved in the four-
to five-hour searches of the residents of the four people arrested,
including myself — when they were on that assignment, I want to know
how much violent crime was being prevented.”
Also arrested Tuesday were Madera resident Daniel Dana Furtney, 51, who
retired from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department last year after 29
years on the force, and Sharon Eileen Saunders, 54, of Clovis, an
employee of a local hospital.
Arraignment is set for Wednesday.