August 19, 1995 in City

Explosives Story Distorted, Suspect Says A Canadian Rancher Just Wanted To Blow Up Some Beaver Dams

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Kent Allen Johnson admits he was involved in the theft of 500 pounds of explosives from a North Idaho mine.

But breaking into the Lucky Friday Mine and taking the explosives was not his idea, Johnson said in an interview Friday from the Spokane County Jail.

Johnson also said he’s dumbfounded at the amount of speculation and distortion surrounding his arrest, fueled by suggestions he has connections to militias.

Another defendant in the case, Corey Lee Miller, 34, of Osburn, Idaho, reportedly told agents Johnson was a member of a militia group.

Miller also told federal agents that Johnson told him he would sell the explosives to either a Canadian group trying to blow up a dam or an Idaho man with militia associations.

Johnson firmly denied belonging to any of those groups or having plans to sell explosives to such organizations.

“What you really had were a couple of country kids out to make some quick bucks and not trying to hurt anybody,” Johnson said.

Authorities said this week that Johnson is a member of The Circle, an area-wide ring devoted to selling methamphetamine.

Johnson has been arrested for possession of that drug, but he denied being part of a group selling methamphetamine.

Following Johnson’s appearance in U.S. District Court, Canadian dam operators placed security guards on alert throughout British Columbia.

Reporters in both countries called members of militia groups, trying to link Johnson to their activities.

“Every little thing said is getting blown out of proportion,” said Johnson.

At his trial, Johnson will explain that the idea of getting the explosives resulted from his meeting with a man who said he needed dynamite.

The man had a ranch across the Canadian border and had problems caused by beaver dams, Johnson said.

“I thought, hey, Corey (Miller) said he can get the stuff, this guy wants it. I’ll just be the middle-man,” Johnson said.

The rancher, whom he never met again and doesn’t know by name, told Johnson he was denied a Canadian license to use dynamite, Johnson said.

A third suspect, Joseph Earle TepnerGalland, 26, of Coeur d’Alene, also is in custody in the case.

Agents say he helped transport most of the stolen explosives from Coeur d’Alene to the Sandpoint area several days after the July 30 theft.

Agents said Miller and Johnson stole the explosives from the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho.

The three men, if convicted, face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

A federal judge this week ordered the defendants held without bail until trial. The government must file formal charges within three weeks.

After the theft, Miller and Johnson hid the explosives on farm property owned by Johnson.

“But I got weird at that point and realized I didn’t want to have that stuff on my property,” Johnson said.

He said he and Miller contacted Tepner-Galland, who helped them drive and hide the explosives on rural land south of Sandpoint.

Within days of the theft, authorities named Johnson as a suspect based on information from a number of North Idaho sources.

They arrested him on Aug. 7 after a car chase and collision on Interstate 90.

Johnson confessed he sped away from pursuing police cars. “That’s because I had a suspended license. And I had gotten away from cops a couple times before,” he said.

Federal agents arrested Miller the following day, with Tepner-Galland arrested several days after.

One of the reasons federal prosecutors gave for keeping all three men in jail was the danger of their helping move the unrecovered explosives.

Agents are still searching for about 80 pounds of the explosives.

The amount missing is much lower than authorities think, Johnson said.

“That’s because I washed a bunch down the drain in a hotel about four days after we got it,” he explained.

Johnson said he told agents that he and three friends were in a hotel one evening, along with a duffel bag containing 30 to 40 sticks of explosives.

A loud knock on the door startled them. “We figured it was the police,” he said.

He took the explosives, filled a bathtub with warm water and began with the others to dissolve the clay-like sticks.

In 30 minutes they turned the sticks into dark brown gel that gradually rinsed down the drain, he said.

ATF agents could not be reached Friday to confirm Johnson’s account.

Mike Springer, a special agent with ATF, said earlier this week investigators were looking for at least one other person who supposedly knows where the remaining explosives are.

Why would Johnson have the explosives in a duffel bag?

“They were there for the guy from Canada. But he never showed up,” he said.

At one point, Johnson hoped to sell the explosives to the rancher for $4,000. He later decided he wanted nothing to do with them.

“With all the stories in the papers coming out, I got real scared,” Johnson said.

“I would have given it away for nothing.”

, DataTimes MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: Suspect: Explosives story skewed

IDAHO HEADLINE: Suspect: Explosives story skewed

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