Bomb-maker apologizes for his 'dangerous hobby'

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former college student facing a two-year prison sentence for building bombs without a federal license in his off-campus Pennsylvania apartment told a judge he now recognizes his "dangerous hobby" was "reckless and childish."

Vladislav Miftakhov, 19, is scheduled for sentencing Friday before a federal judge in Johnstown.

The San Carlos, California, man has been jailed since police acted on a landlord's tip that Miftakhov was growing marijuana in his apartment near the Penn State-Altoona campus on Jan. 24. Police found the pot plants, as well as bomb-making materials, including an unexploded device containing about a half-pound of volatile chemicals in the apartment about 85 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Public defender Christopher Brown contends much of the legal scrutiny the case received from prosecutors and the media was fueled by the Boston Marathon bombings nine months earlier. The two bombing suspects are young men who, like Miftakhov, are Russian-born, but unlike Miftakhov, were allegedly motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs.

"Yet, now that the dust has settled, it is clear that Mr. Miftakhov's intentions were not the same as those in Boston," Brown wrote in a pre-sentence memorandum. Miftakhov "had not adopted extremist Islamic beliefs and, more importantly, did not intend to harm anyone or anything."

Brown contends Miftakhov's lifelong fascination with fireworks is a byproduct of being raised in an environment of "science and engineering," with his parents and stepfather having advanced degrees in physics and engineering from schools in the United States and Russia. Miftakhov emigrated from that country when he was 4.

In a two-page letter apologizing for and explaining his actions, Miftakhov told U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson he realized the danger he posed.

"Having parents and friends that are physicists and engineers, my activities in pyrotechnics were not seen as suspicious or serious," Miftakhov wrote. "These factors caused me to develop a dangerous hobby over my teenage years and despite my efforts to be careful and cautious ... my actions were reckless and childish."

The charge Miftakhov pleaded guilty to in July, manufacturing an explosive device without a license, carries up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of probation. Prosecutors and Brown have agreed on a two-year sentence, which the judge must still approve.

Whatever the sentence, Miftakhov will get credit for more than 10 months he's spent incarcerated since his arrest.

A federal magistrate initially ruled that Miftakhov could be released until he pleaded guilty or went to trial, but Gibson reversed the lower judge's order, citing concerns for public safety and Miftakhov's lack of ties to the community.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Kitchen previously 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.

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