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Trial date set for suspects in explosives case

April 26, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer (kwhitney@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE -Two Upper Peninsula men are scheduled to face a June trial in the U.S. District Court case involving more than 4,000 pounds of explosive materials.

In an indictment filed April 10, Kenneth Ageed Kassab of Brimley was added as a defendant in the case against Sault Ste. Marie's John Francis Lechner, who was already facing five felonies related to transporting, distributing and improperly storing explosive materials.

The superseding indictment charges Kassab with one count of transportation of explosives and one count of convicted felon in possession of explosives.

Article Photos

LECHNER

The document also updates the government's case against Lechner, charging him with eight felonies, including two counts each of transportation of explosive materials and improper storage of explosive materials and one count of distribution of explosive materials to a convicted felon.

Currently, Kassab and Lechner are both lodged in the Marquette County Jail.

The additional charges against Lechner come less than a month after he withdrew a guilty plea in the case.

Under the agreement, which was reached Feb. 21, he would have pleaded guilty to one count of possessing explosives while under indictment, a 10-year felony.

In exchange for the plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office would have dropped four other charges, but Lechner requested a trial, submitting letters to the court voicing his opinion.

"So many people are frightened because of what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Sheriff of Chippewa County told the media about me," he wrote in a Feb. 26 letter. "My lawyer will prove these allegations are false."

Lechner's request for withdrawal was granted on March 28.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maarten Vermaat declined to say whether his office would entertain a future plea deal with Lechner.

The original charges against Lechner stem from a September incident in which a government informant wearing a wire allegedly helped Lechner transport about 4,150 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

The pair allegedly moved the ANFO, a blasting agent typically used in mining and other commercial operations, from property Lechner owned on Blalock Road in Sault Ste. Marie to a shed on the informant's property in Dafter.

A federal agent then obtained permission to search the informant's property and located 83 50-pound bags of ANFO resting on pallets in the shed.

Searches of properties owned by Lechner and his mother turned up dozens of blasting caps and thousands of feet of detonator cord.

Though authorities have not accused Lechner of plotting to detonate the substance, court testimony from September revealed there was enough ANFO to produce an explosion equal to, or exceeding, that of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., which killed 168 people.

Testimony also indicated that Lechner allegedly told the informant he was moving the ANFO in an attempt to hide it from federal agents.

Lechner and Kassab are scheduled for an initial pretrial hearing at 4 p.m. on May 17 in federal court in Marquette and are slated for a June 11 jury trial.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.

 
 

 

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