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Ocala man who scouted out sniper’s nest sentenced to 15 years

Jonathan Thomas Beese

An Ocala man was sentenced to prison Wednesday on several charges related to a terror threat.

Fifth Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti sentenced 20-year-old Jonathan Thomas Beese, of Ocala, to 15 years concurrent and lifetime probation for armed burglary, grand theft, possession of burglary tools, conspiracy to commit armed burglary and solicitation to commit armed burglary. Beese had pleaded no contest to the charges in March.

In 2015, the FBI Jacksonville Division was alerted to Beese’s interest in ISIS-related materials and activities. In April 2017, Beese and a co-defendant, 21-year-old Kristin Michaela Sparks, were arrested when the ongoing investigation revealed the pair had stolen firearms from the trunk of a vehicle belonging to Sparks’ father, 55-year-old Steven Mark Sparks, who was a convicted felon.

Kristin Michaela Sparks

Subsequent searches of Beese’s computers, cell phones and social media accounts revealed a keen interest in terrorism activities and professed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli views. In addition, Beese began training with the stolen firearms and scouted a facility in Ocala for use as a sniper’s nest.

Kristin Sparks pleaded no contest to charges of armed burglary, grand theft, possession of burglary tools and conspiracy to commit armed burglary, and was sentenced to seven years in state prison, followed by 13 years of probation. Stephen Sparks pleaded no contest to one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to 379 days in jail and 42 months of probation.

“With Mr. Beese’s sentence of 15 years in prison today, we are reminded that in the fight against antisemitism, we must always remain vigilant,” Assistant State Attorney Bill Gladson said. “Bigots who trade in the commodity of fear and prey on the unsuspecting will be shown no quarter here.”

Assistant State Attorney Timothy McCourt agreed.

“Seventeen years ago we woke up to a world that was radically different than it was the morning before,” he said. “Since then, our nation has been at war with terrorism. This case serves as an example of how state and federal law enforcement agencies, along with members of the public who saw something, can work together to prevent violence from those who would seek to harm us and destroy our way of life.”

Charles P. Spencer, special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division, said he’s thankful for everyone who played a part in the investigation.

“Law enforcement sees many challenges in confronting the modern-day terrorist threat and this case highlights the importance of cooperation between agencies and the community,” he said. “We thank the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Ocala Police Department and our community partners for their assistance in this case, which is representative of the shared responsibility we have to keep each other and our nation safe.”

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Commander Gregg Jerald said the case is a reminder that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies must remain vigilant in the continued effort to thwart the actions of those who seek to harm others.

“Mr. Beese has been brought to justice and will go to prison where he belongs,” he said. “This case also serves as a reminder that citizens are often the eyes and ears of law enforcement and shows the importance of citizens saying something when they see something out of the ordinary or which raises suspicion. We are thankful for the combined efforts of all involved that this threat was identified and potential danger was averted.”

Photos in Ocala, Florida

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