Bevalee Ferguson knew the guy in the downstairs apartment collected guns, but she didn’t know he was potential trouble.
She also knew he was an Army vet and a member of the Minnesota National Guard, but she didn’t know he was, according to federal allegations, a self-described “commander” of his own militia who stashed guns and ammo “throughout the state.”
So when federal agents scoured Keith Michael Novak’s Maplewood apartment for four hours Wednesday looking for evidence that he had stolen IDs and personal information from hundreds of military comrades, Ferguson, the apartment caretaker, was stunned.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said Thursday, shaking her head. “He’s just been such a nice kid. I just can’t fathom him doing this.”
Novak, 25, was arrested and charged late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis with committing fraud in connection with stealing names, Social Security numbers and security clearance information from 400 members of his former Army unit in Fort Bragg, N.C. He remains in federal custody pending his next court appearance, scheduled for Monday in Minneapolis.
According to a criminal complaint and FBI search warrant affidavit filed this week, Novak stole the information so that he could make fake IDs for his militia members.
Novak, an Iraq war veteran, joined the Minnesota National Guard in September 2012 after transferring from active duty. He currently is an intelligence analyst with the Guard’s Bloomington-based A Company, 1st Armored Brigade Special Troops Battalion.
Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, a Guard spokesman, declined to comment Thursday about the case, but said the Guard is cooperating with investigators. An FBI spokesman, officials with the U.S. attorney’s office and a federal defender also declined to discuss it Thursday.
Undercover agents in Utah
According to the affidavit:
Novak stole the identity information while serving as a soldier and intelligence analyst with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg from February 2009 to September 2012.
Four months after joining the Minnesota National Guard, he was sent to a counterintelligence training camp in Utah, where he met two undercover FBI agents who identified themselves as members of a Utah-based militia.
At one point, Novak told the agents that he had removed classified material while stationed at Fort Bragg and said that he would share that information when they visited him in Minnesota.
Novak did that during a July visit, allowing the agents to snap digital photos of the material and also teaching them how to encrypt files.
He also showed them a personnel roster with names, Social Security numbers and other identification of a “Battalion’s-worth of people,” the criminal complaint says.
After the agents told Novak that they knew of a source who could use the information to make fake IDs, allegedly for his militia members, he sent them information on 44 individuals in exchange for $2,000.
The affidavit also makes reference to military field exercises Novak and militia members conducted in rural Minnesota and flak vests that Novak said he took from Fort Bragg to give to militia colleagues. It also cites statements Novak made to the undercover agents about hiding guns and weapons “throughout the state” and possible escape routes from his apartment if he were confronted by authorities.
“I’ve my AK in my bed,” the affidavit quoted him as saying. “If I hear that door kick, it’s going boom, boom, boom … I’ve got something, 5,000 rounds, a thousand of it is in magazines, ready to go. … ”
Bevalee Ferguson said Novak moved into the two-story, eight-unit apartment building in Maplewood last summer and had been a model tenant who paid rent on time.
A half-brother lived with him, she said, but for the most part, Novak “very seldom has anybody around.”
She said that to her knowledge, Novak wasn’t working but was attending classes at a local college.
“He talked Army all the time,” she said.
Novak’s Facebook page lists his interests as shooting, history, cars, guns and the military and shows that he belongs to an 8,874-member Facebook group called “The Modern American Revolution,” which criticizes the government and says it does not encourage, support or condone violence. It says in its rules: “We are a movement which has formed to collectively wake the far too many mindless and brainwashed people-drones by combatting garbage media and educational indoctrination.”
In Novak’s Facebook profile picture from last year, a shirtless man on a beach is shown saluting a Confederate battle flag.
Reached by phone, his father, Michael Novak, declined to comment Thursday afternoon.
Don Ferguson, Bevalee Ferguson’s husband and an Army vet, said Thursday that Keith Novak once invited him into his apartment to show off his guns, all of which Ferguson assumed were registered.
“We knew he liked to collect weapons — he’s got a bunch of guns down there,” he said. “We never assumed anything other than he was in the National Guard …
“Militia never even popped into my mind.”