Two plead guilty in blast
Two men have pleaded guilty to federal charges involving explosives after a device detonated and ripped open a parked car in north Spokane last summer.
A group of additional suspects remains behind bars awaiting trial in what federal investigators call “a gang bombing” tied to the drug trade.
Adam L. Hankins, 46, appeared in a Spokane federal courtroom Friday, where U.S. District Court Judge Justin L. Quackenbush questioned what he called a lenient four- to five-year prison sentence agreed to by attorneys for a charge of being a felon in possession of explosives. Prosecutors are justifying the short sentence by saying they expect Hankins to testify against other suspects accused of dealing methamphetamine and using violent tactics to collect on debts.
Police arrested Robert W. Showers and Siaosilepelenise Tuaimalo about a week after an explosive detonated beneath a car in the 5800 block of North Monroe Street on June 29, 2013. Investigators believe the device was intentionally placed, though no one was injured in the 4:30 a.m. explosion. The explosion occurred the same weekend as Hoopfest, but police said it was unrelated to the annual downtown basketball tournament. Court records have not identified the owner of the vehicle targeted by the explosive.
Federal investigators were called in as a garbage bag filled with 14 pounds of ammonium nitrate fuel oil – an industrial-grade bulk explosive commonly used in coal mining – was found at a residence where Showers was staying roughly 3 miles from the blast. Authorities also discovered an empty box of ignition devices and sparklers at the home.
Showers walked by a neighbor the night, before federal authorities raided the home, carrying “a black plastic garbage bag consistent with dirt,” according to court documents. A witness told investigators that Showers said, “This is the biggest firecracker you’ve ever seen.”
Hankins was indicted earlier this year after authorities listened to recordings of jailhouse phone calls between Showers and his girlfriend, who has not yet been charged in the case. In the recordings, Showers can be heard telling the woman to get rid of “the precious stones” belonging to someone named “Hardcore,” a pseudonym used by Hankins, according to records.
Hankins was already in Spokane County Jail when the calls were recorded, on accusations that he sped away in a pickup while a repossession agent was in the truck bed. The repo agent was flung from the truck but not seriously hurt.
Hankins pleaded guilty earlier this summer to being a felon in possession of an explosive, but the hearing was held Friday during which Quackenbush expressed concern about the length of Hankins’ sentence, given his lengthy criminal history.
“As far as I’m concerned, he is an armed career offender,” said Quackenbush, listing multiple drug and firearms charges brought against Hankins in the past, including a case a few years ago in which the judge said U.S. attorneys abruptly dropped the charges just before the case was to go to sentencing. Hankins was accused of illegal possession of two semi-automatic handguns in that case.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Matthew Duggan said Friday the office believes Hankins possesses knowledge that would assist the drug case against the other defendants. Hankins’ attorney, John Lockwood, said his client would be willing to testify if the cases go to trial.
“This is more than just a plea agreement, it’s a full cooperation agreement with the government,” Lockwood said.
Before he would render a sentence, Quackenbush ordered the attorneys to return to court with a written statement indicating Hankins’ value to the drug case.
Hankins’ plea follows Showers’ admission of guilt on the same charge. Prosecutors also are recommending a four- to five-year sentence for Showers.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms declined to comment on the case.
Tuaimalo is a co-defendant in a drug case that also names Aaryana L. Malcolm, Adam T. Layton and Daniel C. Villalobos as suspects. The quartet have been indicted on charges of conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in the commission of a drug-related crime and discharging a firearm in the commission of a drug-related crime. Prosecutors expect to argue at least two drive-by shootings also took place in the events that led to the charges. They suspect Tuaimalo and others of collecting drug debts for Malcolm, who they accuse of heading the operation.
Court documents indicate Showers showed Tuaimalo and Malcolm a “blasting cap,” commonly used to detonate explosives such as ammonium nitrate fuel oil, around the time the North Monroe Street explosion occurred. One of those blasting caps also was discovered in Hankins’ truck, though he disputes the explosive device belonged to him.
Documents detailing the investigative findings of agents looking into the drug case remain under seal in federal court.
Tentative trial dates for Tuaimalo, Malcolm, Layton and Villalobos are set for November. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicated more charges may be filed in the case.