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Leadership Conflict Leaves Bay Area Minutemen Disgruntled, Disbanded

By CHRIS ECHEGARAY The Tampa Tribune

Published: Apr 27, 2007

TAMPA - The local Minutemen group, known for counterprotests at immigration rallies and scoping out construction sites, disbanded after a power struggle with the national organization.

Mike Jarbeck, founder of Minutemen Florida Corps, battled over money and membership with the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, the national umbrella organization known for building fences and patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border.

The national group removed Jarbeck in February, leaving many Tampa Bay area members disgruntled.

Jarbeck of Orlando and others said the Minutemen outfit started as a patriotic, grass-roots effort against illegal immigration but became more about politics and the visibility of Chris Simcox, the national group's Arizona-based president. Jarbeck said the national organization wrested control by appointing chapter directors after leaders realized statewide membership had grown from 52 in 2006 to more than 400 people today.

"Once we grew and were large enough, we were on their radar now," Jarbeck said. "There was a steady stream of money to national, but nothing came back. I am very disillusioned."

Efforts to reach Simcox through his spokesman, Bryan Rudnik, were unsuccessful.

Julius Morreal, Southwest Florida director for the Minutemen, confirmed that Jarbeck is no longer with the organization and there will be no counterprotests Tuesday at Tampa's Day Without an Immigrant rally, as there were last year. He declined to comment on the organizational split.

The national organization formed after the Sept. 11 attacks. Members patrol the U.S.-Mexican border, reporting illegal crossers to Border Patrol agents.

Jarbeck said he was falsely accused of improperly handling money for members' background checks and was never fully reimbursed for his expenses.

Pam Hill and Claude Miranda are Bay area members unhappy with what they call a power play.

"I'm appalled at the politics," said Miranda of Odessa. "It's nonsense."

Hill of Brandon will not support the group anymore.

"Mike was the director, and he was thrown out for no good reason," Hill said. "They were good meetings, counterprotests, and it all comes to grinding halt."

Jarbeck and local members say the move is surprising because under him, the Florida Minutemen were active in what they call the "invasion of our country."

The Minutemen Florida Corps visited construction sites. If they thought a company was hiring illegal immigrants, they would make posters at the site about the illegality.

The employers were told they would be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We were effective," Jarbeck said. "It should be Americans working at those job sites. Once we did that, we watched as those construction workers changed overnight."

Jarbeck joined the Minutemen in April 2005. He drove 2,000 miles from Orlando to Naco, Ariz., near the Mexican border.

He worked 16-hour shifts, watching for border crossers at night and reporting them to Border Patrol agents.

"I was an original Minuteman," Jarbeck said. "They are not concerned with the interior enforcement. Yes, you need to stop them from crossing, but you need something done outside of that in other states."

Reporter Chris Echegaray can be reached at (813) 259-7920 or cechegaray@tampatrib.com.