A Lonoke County man who came under the scrutiny of the FBI because of suspected terrorist ties was sentenced this week to five years in federal prison on an indictment charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Charles Elric Schlinke, 31, pleaded guilty to the charge last January before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody, Jr. At his sentencing hearing Wednesday, in addition to 60 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Moody ordered Schlinke to serve three years on supervised release.
Originally from Minnesota, Schlinke had been convicted of simple robbery in Olmstead County, Minn., District Court, making him ineligible to own firearms. When FBI agents searched his Cabot residence last May, they recovered a Beretta 12-gauge shotgun and a Ruger 10/22 .22 caliber rifle.
According to an affidavit submitted by the FBI along with a criminal complaint, Schlinke first came to the FBI's attention Feb. 25, 2019, when the FBI National Threat Operations Center received a tip from a person claiming their friend, "Elrik," was "talking about bombing a local mosque and allegedly going to Russia to train in militia activities," that he was "talking of anti-Semitic acts," "promoting communists views" and was moving to Arkansas.
After FBI investigators confirmed with the tipster that "Elrik" was Schlinke, the person, according to the affidavit, said Schlinke, who lived in Texas at that time, had been training with a Texas militia and was planning to travel to Russia to "train with a militia or bomb a mosque."
At that point, the affidavit said, a domestic terrorism investigation was opened on Schlinke and in March 2020 was transferred to the FBI field office in Little Rock.
After a federal search warrant was issued May 20, 2020, FBI agents searched Schlinke's apartment in Cabot and discovered the shotgun and the rifle.
At the sentencing hearing, Schlinke's attorney, KenDrell Collins with the Federal Public Defenders Office in Little Rock, said the facts of Schlinke's background did not fit the FBI description of him as a potential international terrorist.
"First of all, he doesn't even have a passport," Collins said. "He has no membership in any type of militia of any kind. When he was 18 he was actually aspiring to be in the Marines."
Collins said Schlinke's military ambitions were derailed by a drug test that showed positive for marijuana use, which disqualified him for service, and eventually escalated to the use of cocaine and then a decade-long addiction to methamphetamine.
In addition to substance abuse issues, which Collins said Schlinke had tried to address repeatedly, his client was dealing with mental health issues that include post traumatic stress and bi-polar depression.
Collins said, however, that over the past few years Schlinke had turned his life around, moved to Arkansas and begun a relationship and had found steady employment.
"On the day he was arrested, he was headed to work," Collins said. "He had a steady job ... and was really just trying to make an honest living."
When given a chance to speak, Schlinke took umbrage at the suggestion he had promoted communist views or had attempted to move to Russia to join a communist group, saying his family had a history of military service and it had always been his ambition to serve in the military, particularly the Marines.
He said his accuser, whom he said he believed to be a former high school classmate, had made a number of accusations that had no truth to them. He said he moved to Texas to live with his father but decided ab0ut three years ago to relocate to Arkansas.
"I came to Arkansas because land is cheap," Schlinke said, "and also because it reminds me of what Texas used to be when I was growing up before it was overrun with drug cartels, crime and a bunch of homeless people."
He said despite knowing he would have to serve time in prison, his time in Arkansas had been the best time of his life, and he looked forward to utilizing the Bureau of Prisons re-entry program as a springboard to a more independent lifestyle.
Addressing an FBI agent sitting with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Williams, he said, with a slight chuckle, "I hope next time, maybe if something like this comes up you guys can come talk to me at, like, the farmer's market instead of raiding my house."
Williams asked that in addition to a guideline sentence that Schlinke be placed on supervised release for three years, citing his history of mental health issues and substance abuse. She said it was because of that history "the FBI feared that Mr. Schlinke might become dangerous."