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Turlock militia leader pleads guilty to obstructing murder investigation

A Turlock man, who was the leader of a militia, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice by destroying records connected to the investigation of the murder of a federal protective security officer and the shooting and attempted murder of a second PSO on May 2020.

Jessie Rush, 29, of Turlock along with Robert Blancas, 33, a transient resident of the Bay Area, Simon Ybarra, 23, of Los Gatos, and Kenny Miksch, 21, of San Lorenzo, were indicted on March 23 in connection with their scheme to obstruct justice by destroying records material to the murder and shooting investigation. All have pleaded guilty to the charges against them, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

The men were members of the “Grizzly Scouts” militia group, a group connected to the “boogaloo” movement.

According to each of their plea agreements entered into at the time of their guilty pleas, Rush, Blancas, Ybarra, and Miksch admitted that in April 2020 they joined an armed anti-government militia group named the “1st Detachment, 1st California Grizzly Scouts” (Grizzly Scouts). They had connected earlier via a Facebook group created in connection to the “boogaloo” movement. “Boogaloo” is a term, as noted in their indictment, used by some militia extremists to reference a purportedly impending politically-motivated civil war or uprising against the government. The “boogaloo” movement is not a single cohesive group but rather a loose concept used as a rallying point for some extremists. 

According to their plea agreements, Rush named himself the Commanding Officer of the Grizzly Scouts and assumed the rank of “Major.” Blancas assumed the rank of “1st Lieutenant” with responsibilities for the group’s security and intelligence. Ybarra received the rank of “Corporal” and handled recruitment. Miksch received the rank of “1st Lieutenant” with responsibilities for the group’s training and firearms instruction. 

All four admitted they periodically held group meetings for firearms training and other purposes. They engaged in armed, in-person “training operations” in May 2020 with “operations orders” that labeled law enforcement as potential “enemy forces” and suggested using lethal force and taking prisoners. All four acknowledged in their plea agreements that they engaged in June 2020 discussions with other Grizzly Scouts about “boog” (boogaloo), waging war against the government, and tactics for killing law enforcement personnel, including police officers.

Rush, Blancas, Ybarra, and Miksch each acknowledged in their plea agreements that they learned a Grizzly Scouts member was allegedly involved in the May 29, 2020, murder of a federal PSO and the attempted murder of his fellow PSO in Oakland. They also each admitted that the Grizzly Scouts member sent group communications via a WhatsApp group entitled “209 Goon HQ” during that member’s alleged attack on and shoot-out with Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies in Ben Lomond, California on June 6, 2020. According to their plea agreements, that member asked the other group members to come to his aid and said, “Dudes I offed a fed.” Rush admitted he instructed that member to delete data on his phone and get out of there. 

Rush, Blancas, Ybarra, and Miksch each admitted to conspiring with other group members to destroy the records of their interactions and communications because they foresaw authorities would investigate and prosecute that Grizzly Scouts member. Specifically, they each admitted in their plea agreements to destroying records associated with the WhatsApp “209 Goon HQ” group, including communications with that Grizzly Scouts member. Blancas also admitted to destroying files on Dropbox regarding the Grizzly Scouts that consisted of the group’s rank structure, a non-disclosure agreement requiring members to maintain confidentiality of group materials, a liability release waiver, descriptions of the Grizzly Scouts uniforms, and a scorecard assessing the skills of Grizzly Scouts members in combat, firearms, medical, and other training. 

Each of the four defendants admitted they intended to impair the integrity and availability of the above records for use in official proceedings, including the investigation and prosecution of the May 29, 2020, murder of one PSO and attempted murder of another PSO at the Oakland federal building. 

Blancas was also earlier charged in a separate complaint and information with the enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, that is, the production of child pornography. In entering his plea of guilty, Blancas admitted that from about April through September 2020 he enticed a 15-year-old girl to repeatedly make and send him pornographic photographs and videos of herself. Blancas admitted that he received at least 77 pornographic photographs and 31 videos from the victim, all while exchanging thousands of messages with her and speaking to her by audio and video call. Blancas admitted that he knew she was a minor when he did so.

Blancas pleaded guilty on Aug. 23 to enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity. On the same date Blancas pleaded guilty in the destruction of records case to three counts: one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying records He was arrested on Dec. 1, 2020, and remains in custody as he awaits sentencing.  

Rush and Ybarra pleaded guilty on Sept. 13 and Miksch pleaded guilty on Sept. 20. Each defendant pleaded to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying records.

Blancas’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6. The sentencing hearing for Rush is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2022. The sentencing hearings for Ybarra and Miksch are scheduled for Feb. 7, 2022.  

Rush, Blancas, Ybarra, and Miksch each face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for conspiracy to destroy records in an official proceeding and, as applies to Blancas only, for each of his two counts of the destruction of records in an official proceeding. Blancas also faces an additional penalty of a minimum of 10 years imprisonment to a maximum of life in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity.