'Huge relief' as Cobb's house sold: Prosecutor says plea deal on terrorizing charges could happen in next 2 weeks
CARSON — White supremacist Craig Cobb’s house in Leith came under new ownership Monday, a development the mayor of the small southwestern North Dakota called “a huge relief.”
A judge on Monday also granted attorneys an extra three weeks to try to hammer out a plea agreement for Cobb, who has pleaded not guilty to seven felony charges alleging he terrorized Leith residents last November.
Cobb’s house and yard, which drew the ire of townsfolk and international attention last summer when they were decorated with signs and flags promoting Nazi and racist beliefs, were sold to Kenneth J. Zimmerman, who lives in nearby Carson and operates an auto shop there.
Zimmerman said he plans to clean up the property, paint the house and use it for storage.
He said Cobb called him from the Mercer County Jail in Stanton, where he’s being held on $100,000 cash bond, to discuss a possible sale.
Zimmerman said he’s not sure how Cobb knew he was looking to buy.
Leith Mayor Ryan Schock said he knew the sale was coming, but he wouldn’t elaborate. City leaders had tried to have the house condemned and demolished but were told by the city attorney they didn’t have the legal authority to do so.
“After that house is out of (Cobb’s) name, it’s a huge relief today,” he said.
Zimmerman said he had no apprehension about purchasing the house from Cobb, who bought up a dozen properties in Leith between September 2011 and October 2012 with hopes of attracting enough like-minded people to take control of the city’s government.
“I’m not scared of him,” he said.
Zimmerman said he’s not affiliated with any white supremacy groups, and he declined to comment on Cobb’s views.
“I guess it’s his business and I don’t care,” he said.
The deed transfer was filed with the county recorder’s office Monday, shortly after Cobb appeared for a brief pretrial conference in Grant County District Court in Carson. A handcuffed Cobb walked into the courtroom cleanshaven with closely cropped hair in stark contrast to his usual bushy gray beard and shoulder-length mane.
District Judge Gail Hagerty granted a request by Cobb’s attorney, Ryan Heintz, to set a trial date and allow a three-week extension for plea negotiations. Plea agreements normally have to be reached by this stage in the case.
“We possibly could come up with a settlement within the next two weeks,” Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz said after Cobb’s appearance, which lasted less than a minute.
A trial date wasn’t set. Schwarz said it would most likely happen in late summer.
Cobb, 62, faces up to five years in prison for each of the seven felony charges against him for allegedly terrorizing Leith residents while on an armed patrol of the city with 29-year-old Kynan Dutton in mid-November.
Dutton pleaded guilty last month to reduced misdemeanor charges of menacing and disorderly conduct in a plea agreement that requires him to testify in Cobb’s case. He is serving two years of supervised probation.
Schwarz said a plea agreement with Cobb wouldn’t necessarily have to include jail time but would require some sort of controls, such as probation that would prevent Cobb from possessing firearms.
“I’m not just going to kick the can down the street,” he said.
Schwarz met with Cobb’s alleged victims afterward to hear their input on a possible plea agreement.
“I think he needs to do some time, and I think that’s what we left there with,” Greg Bruce, one of the alleged victims who also runs Leith’s unofficial website, said after the meeting.
Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay said he also would like to see Cobb serve some jail time. Bay said the county and outside law enforcement agencies have incurred about $40,000 in direct and indirect costs related to Cobb, including jail expenses and medical treatment, extra patrols of Leith and providing crowd control when about 300 people protested National Socialist Movement commander Jeff Schoep’s visit to Leith last fall.
Schoep still owns the old creamery building in Leith, which was deeded to him by Cobb and sits next door to Cobb’s former house in Leith.
Of the dozen properties Cobb purchased in Leith, he deeded away seven of the lots, four of them to white supremacists. After Monday’s transfer, he still owns three lots.
Schwarz said he knew of no truth to rumors that Cobb is considering deeding his property in Leith back to the city or to someone to whom he owes money. But if Cobb is willing to relinquish his Leith property and not return to the city, “I’ll take that into consideration,” he said.
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.