PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Russian-born college student has agreed to plead guilty to a charge that he built bombs without a license in his off-campus apartment in central Pennsylvania.
The deal between federal prosecutors in Johnstown and 18-year-old Vladislav Miftakhov came after months of negotiations with his federal public defender, who did not immediately return messages for comment Tuesday.
Miftakhov was a Penn State-Altoona student from San Carlos, California, when he was arrested Jan. 24.
He has been jailed since police acting on a landlord's tip that he was growing marijuana found bomb-making materials, including an unexploded device containing about a half-pound of volatile chemicals, in his off-campus apartment about 85 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Federal authorities took over the investigation and filed a criminal complaint Feb. 6, which gave them 30 days to obtain a grand jury indictment. Since then, prosecutors and public defender Christopher Brown have filed four joint motions to extend that deadline while they negotiated the filing of appropriate charges.
Online court records show prosecutors last week filed a criminal information containing the charge, after which U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson scheduled an Aug. 19 hearing in Johnstown where Miftakhov will waive indictment and plead guilty. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
Brown has argued that Miftakhov meant to detonate the bombs to make noise, not mayhem. He got a federal magistrate in February to order Miftakhov released from jail pending trial, arguing that prosecutors were invoking the Boston Marathon bombing, which was carried out a few months before — allegedly by a Russian-born college student and his brother.
But before Miftakhov could be released, Gibson reversed the lower judge's order, citing concerns for public safety and Miftakhov's lack of ties to western Pennsylvania.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Kitchen has argued Miftakhov's intentions weren't clear because, among other things, police found "anarchy" symbols in his apartment and a note saying, "If you find this, you will never find me," rolled up and stored inside a bullet casing.
Ben Cornali, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified in February that Miftakhov initially said he was making bottle rockets and fireworks but later indicated he planned to "blow things up" with bombs, without being specific.
Investigators contend Miftakhov ordered potassium perchlorate and magnesium online, then mixed the chemicals and put them into empty carbon dioxide cartridges to make the bombs.
A friend of Miftakhov's said he was there when Miftakhov detonated two small devices, each containing about 3 grams of chemicals, in a field, which prompted neighbors to come out of their homes. The unexploded bomb found in Miftakhov's apartment was more than 60 times larger.
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