SUTTONS BAY — A young man who spent the summer in a Suttons Bay house that federal authorities raided on Friday frequently wore what neighbors described as protective gear, including gloves and a face mask, as he strolled between the house and a backyard garage.
“It wasn’t once or twice,” said Jim Cooper, who lives with his wife Cathy just across the alley from a house at 504 N. St. Mary’s Ave. “It was not unusual to see him three to four times a day in (that) regalia.”
Federal authorities’ searches of the Suttons Bay house and another Leelanau County home on Friday appear to be linked to FBI raids conducted on upscale homes near Houston, Texas. Authorities won’t elaborate on the connection, but a Texas couple appears to have a financial interest in the houses in Texas and Leelanau County.
About 60 FBI agents on Friday searched properties in Suttons Bay and Leland Township. Federal agents donned HAZMAT suits during their all-day search.
“They definitely said nothing,” Cathy Cooper said. “They said it was a sealed warrant and they were not able to divulge information.”
Bob Beeckman, supervisory special agent with FBI Detroit field office, said he couldn’t comment on whether the warrants issued by the United States District Court of Western Michigan are connected with the Texas probe. He said the warrants and affidavits will remain sealed until an arrest is made.
“Then they’re unsealed and we get peek at what the facts are,” he said.
Leelanau County records show the St. Mary’s Avenue property was purchased in 2003 by the Cecily Horton Trust. A similarly named trust owns a 5035 E. Sugar Bush Lane property in Leland. Cecily Horton, an art consultant, and Andrew Schenck own three Houston area properties where federal agents also executed sealed search warrants on Friday.
The Houston Chronicle reported the Texas investigation was prompted by a purchase of chemicals that could be used in the manufacture of nerve or tear gas. Beeckman said he couldn’t comment, but stressed the public was safe.
“I can say all precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the public,” he said.
FBI agents asked questions about a college-age man who lived in the St. Mary’s Avenue residence, said neighbors and witnesses to the raid. Jim Cooper said he believes Horton’s son spent the summer in the residence and the young man’s parents “frequently” stopped by with food.
He described the resident as young-looking, perhaps a teenager, but did not know the neighbor’s name.
Steve Hoyt’s company, Steve Hoyt Construction, is restoring the former Union School across the street from the St. Mary’s Avenue home. He said he saw law enforcement surround the block Friday at 10 a.m. and knock on the house’s door to inform any occupants about the search warrant. No one answered and agents in tactical gear moved toward the property.
“They seemed to have an interest in the garage,” said Hoyt’s son, Zach Hoyt.
“They asked if we seen anything out of the ordinary, any college kids,” Steve Hoyt said.
Cathy Cooper said news reports that agents detonated potentially dangerous materials found in Houston were “frightening,” but her husband said he was less concerned after seeing the professionalism of the dozens of agents who search their neighbor’s property.
“Of all the houses in Suttons Bay, it’s now the least likely to blow up,” Jim Cooper said.