Agent: Thieves Had Buyers For Explosives Suspects Allegedly Planned To Sell Explosives To Militant Groups In Idaho And Canada
Federal agents said Monday a man charged in the theft of 500 pounds of mining explosives planned to sell some of them to a Sandpoint resident tied to a militia group.
Kent Johnson, 31, also told another defendant in the case that part of the explosives would go to a “Canadian group looking to blow up a dam,” said Herb Byerly, special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Byerly said he has no idea what Canadian group Johnson may have had in mind and doesn’t know which dam was targeted.
The agent’s comments came at a U.S. District Court hearing on whether Johnson and co-defendant Corey Miller of Osburn, Idaho, should be released on bail.
Miller, 34, and Johnson are charged with possessing stolen explosives, a federal crime with penalties of 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
Johnson’s attorney, Maryann Moreno, insisted he has no connections to militia groups. “Most of what you heard in court today were third-party allegations about him,” she said.
Johnson was arrested Aug. 7 after a wild car chase on Interstate 90 near Coeur d’Alene. Miller was arrested a day later in Osburn.
A federal prosecutor told U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno that releasing the two would pose a danger to the community.
Agents still are searching for up to 100 pounds of the explosives stolen July 30 from the Lucky Friday Mine near Mullan, Idaho.
“This is a very serious crime, and it’s dangerous to have these people released while some explosives are not yet recovered,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Johnson.
Imbrogno plans to decide today whether Miller and Johnson should remain in custody.
Investigators found about 400 pounds of the stolen stick-powder explosives on rural property south of Sandpoint last week.
Johnson reportedly told Miller he would sell some of the explosives to a Sandpoint resident who had connections to a militia group. The resident wasn’t identified.
Johnson also told Miller he had militia connections as well, Byerly said.
The rest of the explosives, the agent said, apparently would be kept for “The Circle,” a group of methamphetamine users and dealers in the region. Agents said Johnson is associated with that group.
Agents are investigating whether Johnson used the explosives in a failed attempt to blow open a Post Falls bank deposit vault on Aug. 6. Police found an unexploded stick of “Superfrac” highexplosive at the West One bank.
Last weekend, agents charged a third suspect, Joseph Earle Tepner-Galland, 26, of Coeur d’Alene, with possession of stolen explosives.
Officials said Tepner-Galland helped drive most of the explosives from Johnson’s property near Coeur d’Alene to Bonner County. A bail hearing for Tepner-Galland will be Wednesday.
Attorneys for Miller and Johnson both argued that their defendants pose no danger if released on bond.
Johnson’s record includes an arrest this summer for possession of rock methamphetamine. His only other offense is for reckless driving in 1991, said Moreno.
Public defender Ruben Iniguez said Miller took part in the theft only after Johnson had threatened to kill members of Miller’s family.
Miller, an unemployed auto repairman, has a record of domestic battery, driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana.
He has no ties to any militia or drug-dealing groups, Iniguez said.
Court records say Johnson and Miller went to the Lucky Friday Mine two weeks ago during the morning work shift when security guards don’t patrol a bunker housing explosives.
Miller, who used to work at the mine as a loader and driver, allegedly wielded a portable torch to cut through three padlocks while Johnson allegedly stood on top of the building holding a 9mm pistol.
Moreno said she thinks the amount of unrecovered explosives may be overstated.
It could be lower, she said, noting that the original 500-pound estimate was a rough guess.