LAKE CITY, Fla. -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released hundreds of documents detailing investigations it conducted on Charles Meade, the founder of the group Meade Ministries, who died in 2010.
The group known also as the End Timers moved from the Mid-west to Columbia County back in the early 1980's. Some consider the End Timers a cult-type group because of their beliefs and behaviors.
The group kept to themselves. They also took over subdivisions in Lake City, while driving around in their trademark Cadillacs.
The FBI started investigating Meade in 2004. Investigations spanned five years.
"We were strictly interested in the allegations of gunfire," said Special Agent in Charge, James Casey.
There are more than 700 pages of documents in the FBI file on Meade. The FBI released more than 300 of those pages to First Coast News.
At the heart of the investigation, gunfire at the compound, talk of a contract hit and a midnight run with a semi full of weapons.
"There were really no allegations that the church was per se a criminal enterprise or that it was involved in criminal activity. It's that some of the folks associated like Meade, like some of these other individuals were personally involved in criminal activity, be it financial, weapons, things like that," said Casey.
Documents show FBI agents focused on Charles Meade off and on since September 2004, in what's called a preliminary inquiry, which means it's limited mainly to surveillance and interviews.
"We were strictly interested in the allegations of gunfire, acquisition of weapons things like that," said Casey.
According to the documents, sources told agents they heard automatic weapons shot at the compound.
One source told agents, "A semi-trailer was utilized to deliver semi-automatic weapons to the End Timers." And the driver was asked "if they bury them can they be detected by satellite."
Contacts were concerned about the group possibly stockpiling weapons. According to the documents, there was also an allegation that "Meade's grandson suggested putting a contract hit on the family member (who just left the church) to keep him from talking about the group's activities."
When asked if any of the allegations were true, Agent Casey said, "Let's just say none of it was substantiated." Casey said he believes if the group is armed, they are legally armed.
But Casey does admit his agents did uncover suspicious activities. According to a document dated March 10, 2005, Charles Meade was stopped and interviewed in South Florida after returning from a vacation cruise on the Queen Mary II. He had $35,000 worth of goods when agents talked to him.
"You ask yourself why would someone bring $35,000 worth of goods back from a cruise I don't know, but it wasn't illegal," said Casey.
Casey said the FBI and IRS checked Meade's finances and some followers, who moved money in unusual ways.
"It was suspicious and still kind of is suspicious. But as we looked at it, our threshold for financial crime is really high right now. We're talking in the million dollar range. We had other investigators from the state look at it as well. If it were probable cause of a crime I'm confident it would have been charged," said Casey.
According to the FBI files, sources told agents Meade followers frequently re-finance their properties, and that is how they think they make their money. A source also told the FBI, End Timers give 100 percent of their paychecks to Meade, Who then gives back an allowance for the follower to live on.
"Wherever they work they get a paycheck, and their entire paycheck goes to the church, not our concern really. We wouldn't investigate any further than that. Whenever we looked at an angle, when it stopped with it wasn't criminal, that's kind of where it stops. Even though it may look different to us, not a federal violation," said Casey.
Over the years, agents noted it was hard to get information out of the community who didn't feel comfortable talking. Then on February 9, 2009, the FBI closed it's case on Charles Meade.
"You saw some of the allegations that were made. The ones involving criminal activity to the extent we could prove it or disprove it, we could never prove it. We did everything we could do and should do and moved on," said Casey.
Agent Casey also noted he is not concerned by the group.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, church members are finally speaking out. Senior pastor James Burbach talked to First Coast News Wednesday afternoon.
While he would not talk on camera about the FBI allegations, he said he was unaware of the investigations. He also said all of the allegations are not true.
Burbach noted that no one is stockpiling weapons and there was never a contract hit.
Burbach, who is Meade's grandson, did talk on camera about how the church is misunderstood. He says all the stories that have been told by former members are not true.
You can hear Burbach and other church officials Thursday night starting at First Coast News at 6.
First Coast News