TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – A Michigan man accused of buying and hiding more than 4,000 pounds of explosives with enough potential firepower to equal the Oklahoma City bombing has pleaded guilty to one count, though his attorney insisted Wednesday that his client had no violent intentions.
John Francis Lechner, 64, reached a deal Tuesday with prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Marquette. In exchange for his guilty plea to an explosives possession charge, four other counts were dismissed. He could get up to 10 years in prison when sentenced May 25.
Lechner was arrested in September after an informant told Chippewa County sheriff’s officials that Lechner had requested help moving a large quantity of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.
Authorities did not accuse Lechner of plotting to detonate the mixture but said he violated a law prohibiting anyone under indictment from having explosives. He had been charged a month earlier with several unrelated offenses, mostly stemming from his pending divorce, his attorney said.
“He had no intention of using them for any nefarious purposes,” defense lawyer Charles Malette said Wednesday. “He had no intention of hurting anybody, destroying anything. He would have used them eventually for business.”
Malette said Lechner, a builder and farmer from Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, obtained the materials years ago for construction projects.
The federal charges were filed about a month after Lechner was booked on several counts in Chippewa County, including larceny by false pretense, assaulting and resisting officers, falsely reporting a felony and being a habitual offender.
In the explosives case, the informant wore a recording device while helping Lechner load the chemicals in Sault Ste. Marie and take them to the nearby village of Dafter.
A sheriff’s detective listening to the recording heard the informant ask Lechner what he planned to do with the material, and Lechner replied: “When the government gets taken over, we will be mercenaries,” according to an affidavit from agent Timothy DeClaire with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
DeClaire said he obtained a search warrant and found 83 bags of the mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, each weighing about 50 pounds. The combined weight was about 4,150 pounds. Investigators said that quantity could do as much damage as the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 that killed 168 people.
The agent said he later found a supply of explosive boosters, detonating cord and blasting caps at Lechner’s mother’s nearby home. Another box of blasting caps was recovered in Sault Ste. Marie, he said. The charge to which Lechner pleaded guilty dealt with those items.
Lechner had been scheduled for trial March 5.
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