Skip to comments.Pa. man accused of terrorist plot
Posted on 02/12/2006 8:28:48 PM PST by Palladin
Michael Curtis Reynolds says he's a patriot. Federal authorities say he's a terrorist.
The FBI believes that the unemployed Wilkes-Barre man tried to conspire with al-Qaeda to wreck the American economy. Agents say Reynolds plotted to blow up the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a Pennsylvania pipeline, and a New Jersey refinery.
The sensational allegations, disclosed in a federal transcript obtained by The Inquirer on Friday, reveal a convoluted plot that includes cyberspace intrigue, an elaborate FBI sting, and a clandestine money-drop on a deserted Idaho road.
The case also involves a municipal judge from Montana who has devoted the last four years to snaring would-be terrorists online.
Reynolds, 47, has not been publicly charged with terrorism. But a federal prosecutor leveled that accusation during a December court hearing, saying that Reynolds attempted to "provide material aid to al-Qaeda" and that the case "involves a federal offense of terrorism."
"He was doing it as a plan to disrupt governmental function, to change the government's actions in foreign countries, and to impact on the national debate about the war," Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus Jr. said at the hearing in Wilkes-Barre.
Reynolds has been held without bail since Dec. 5 on unrelated weapons charges. A U.S. citizen, he is being detained in the Lackawanna County jail.
Reynolds' lawyer, Philip Gelso, declined to comment. U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Heidi Havens said her office "does not comment on active investigations." Described by his former father-in-law as a "John Wayne wanna-be," Reynolds has a string of bad debts and criminal convictions - including one for attempted arson.
His last known address was Room 205 at the Thunderbird Hotel in Pocatello, Idaho.
In the FBI sting two months ago, Reynolds was drawn to a meeting with a purported al-Qaeda operative about 25 miles from the hotel, where he expected to receive $40,000 to finance the alleged plot.
The al-Qaeda contact was actually Shannen Rossmiller, a 36-year-old judge who lives in Conrad, Mont. She was working for the FBI.
"Yes, that was me in communication with Reynolds," Rossmiller acknowledged in a telephone interview Friday night. "But I can't comment further."
This is not Rossmiller's first sting. She regularly monitors extremist Muslim Web sites, searching for potential terrorists. In 2004, she helped win a conviction against a National Guardsman in Tacoma, Wash., whom she met online.
Rossmiller met Reynolds online last fall.
Expose al-Qaeda cell
According to the government, Reynolds tried to disavow any intent to conspire with al-Qaeda when he was questioned by FBI agents.
In fact, authorities say Reynolds told them that he, too, was a patriot and intended to expose an al-Qaeda cell inside the United States.
"He claimed he was trying to lure this terrorist group in," prosecutor Gurganus said in court.
But, Gurganus said, that doesn't jibe with Reynolds' e-mails, in which he said he needed to leave the country after the planned attacks, or why he said he needed a fraudulent passport.
Reynolds was serious about the plot, Gurganus argued, because in his e-mails, he said that he realized he could be sentenced to death as a traitor.
Since his arrest in December, FBI agents in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Pennsylvania have scrambled to piece together Reynolds' background and gauge the credibility of the threat he posed.
"We certainly took it seriously," said one federal official who is familiar with the deliberations regarding whether or when terrorism charges will be brought against Reynolds.
The FBI's Philadelphia division, which includes much of eastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey, receives two or three tips or leads of possible threats each day, according to an agent here who is involved in terrorism work. Only a handful a month - such as the Reynolds case - turn out to be credible enough to launch full-scale investigations, the agent said.
Authorities said Reynolds' letters, computer drawings and e-mails spelled out his plot to detonate trucks filled with propane along the Alaskan pipeline. This included "information on explosive devices, site plans and placement of explosive devices." He also allegedly planned to blow up sections of the Transcontinental Pipeline, a natural-gas pipeline that runs from the Gulf Coast, through Pennsylvania, to New Jersey and New York City.
Further, the government alleges, he targeted Standard Oil Co. in Perth Amboy, N.J., as well as the Williams Refinery in Opal, Wyo. He was arrested not far from there.
According to Gurganus, Reynolds hoped that the attacks on the oil industry would "disrupt governmental function," provoke opposition to the Iraq war, drive up fuel prices, and "lend to the efforts by al-Qaeda to terrorize this nation."
He needed $40,000 to carry out his alleged plot. The day he was arrested, Reynolds' net worth was $24.85. Reynolds was shipped back to Pennsylvania to face a single charge: possession of a grenade. The FBI then obtained search warrants for his desktop computer and his laptop and, later, search warrants for his Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail e-mail accounts.
'Tried to be blood-and-guts'
Richard Danise has bitter memories of Reynolds, his former son-in-law, who, he said, eloped with his daughter, Tammy, in December 1982. "Stupidity" compelled her to marry Reynolds, said Danise, an ex-Marine who lives in Kunkletown, Monroe County.
Although he had misgivings about the marriage, Danise said, he tried to help the couple get started. He arranged for them to acquire an acre of land in Tannersville, Pa., to build a house.
Reynolds had big, fanciful plans, Danise said. "I got the mortgage for him," Danise recalled. "He literally wanted to build a castle, with turrets and everything else. But he had no credit, and he never broke ground." The couple later divorced, although Danise said he didn't remember when.
Danise said the couple had three children, who live with their mother. Though the two have been apart for a while, Reynolds has remained in touch with Tammy, Danise said. "He's never been out of the picture." Describing his former son-in-law, Danise said tersely: "He tried to be blood-and-guts." He had an AR-15 rifle, Danise said.
Reynolds also liked to play paintball at a facility called Skirmish in Jim Thorpe, Pa., Danise said. He even worked as a referee there for a few months last summer. The manager, Megan Mack, said he was a good employee. "He's a stand-up guy, very polite," Mack said. Said Danise, who has been out of touch with Reynolds for years: "I just washed my hands of him. I don't know where he went. I have bitterness. You have no idea."
A rootless life
Michael Curtis Reynolds was born in Mount Kisco, a well-to-do Westchester, N.Y., suburb. His father, Millard, now deceased, was employed in the business department of Reader's Digest. A family member said that Reynolds' mother, Joyce, worked there, too.
But his rootlessness in recent years belies his conventional upbringing.
He has lived throughout the United States, including Kokomo, Ind.; New Hartford, Conn.; Simi Valley, Calif.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Framingham, Mass.; and various places in New York and Pennsylvania. Reynolds also told authorities that he had taught English and math in Thailand and that he had traveled to Austria.
From July 2004 until last spring, he lived on Scott Street in Wilkes-Barre. The house Reynolds rented is a white, two-story frame with a small porch, a black wrought-iron fence, and a tiny, 9-square-foot patch of lawn in a crowded working-class section of the city. Neighbors said he lived there with his mother, whom they described as an elderly woman who had lost a leg to diabetes.
About 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders and dark hair, and a self-professed computer expert, Reynolds was known on the block for working on electronic equipment in a rusted black-and-blue van that he parked outside his house.
Neighbor Tony Maslousky said Reynolds had strung nests of 70 or 80 wires throughout the van. He spent many evenings inside the vehicle, and had run an extension cord trailing from it to the house.
Sometimes, Reynolds would carry boxes of equipment containing electronic tubes from the van into the house, Maslousky said. In the back window of the van was an illuminated Tasmanian devil.
Soon after moving in, Reynolds accidentally slammed the van into Maslousky's parked car, he and other neighbors said. At first, Reynolds said he'd make good on the damages.
When he didn't, Maslousky asked Reynolds whether he'd be compensated. "The guy flipped out and started screaming," Maslousky said. "We had to call the cops. He had no insurance. We never got the money." Neighbors said that Reynolds told them he had worked at a nearby factory making metal hooks.
Some time in early spring, Reynolds disappeared, leaving his mother to fend for herself, neighbors said. His sister came to care for their mother, and she was the one who discovered a grenade inside the house, neighbors said.
The sister, who described Reynolds as a "mercenary" to neighbors, called the police. They showed up with the bomb squad on April 23, records show. Neighbors who said they saw the grenade said it looked as though it had holes drilled into its sides and wires running from it.
Reynolds' current troubles aren't his first brush with the law.
Along with his conviction for attempted arson in 1978, Reynolds was convicted that same year of menacing, officials said. He also has unrelated convictions for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and breach of the peace - the latter a fight with his eldest son in Ansonia, Conn., where he lived from 1999 until mid-2003. The grenade charges, however, carry greater penalties than the months-long sentences he has received in the past. Reynolds now faces three to seven years in federal prison.
Government officials believe that his crimes are much more serious than that, no matter how outlandish they might seem.
A former federal antiterrorism coordinator in Philadelphia said authorities could not afford to take such cases lightly.
"Before 9/11, flying airplanes into a building might have seemed like something out of a Tom Clancy novel, but now you have to take these kinds of threats seriously," said Joseph Poluka, who is now a lawyer at the firm Blank Rome. "You can't treat these things as fiction unless something sounds plainly unbelievable."
Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wouldn't it be easier to just get everyone to buy more shares of Google?
Sounds like a Michael Moore/Al Gore/MoveOn.com groupie.
$40,000? He holds this country d@+n cheap, doesn't he? Shows his mental acuity, huh?
He sounds like a garden variety crazy to me, but the FBI is taking this very seriously.
Cindy, are you familiar with this judge who carried out the sting to grab this guy?
Not personally, no.
I've read a few articles online about the Judge.
She's doing a fantastic job of monitoring al Quaeda websites. She must read, write, and speak Arabic quite well.
Maybe she is an anonymous poster on our Threat Matrix threads.
If the articles I've read are correct; the judge
is quite a lady and quite talented.
A wealthy, spoiled brat. Typical, anti-American POS.
if true, i can't believe they gave the judges name out, and her residence...let's hope this retard was working with a small cell...if any
There have been a lot of stories about this woman on T.V. and all over the place. She is the type of woman a man would be proud of.
I read things like this and I realize: I have a very boring life.
That was probably not a good idea. It blew her cover, and now she cannot be as effective.
But hats off to the lady for helping to catch this nut Reynolds before he hurt a lot of people.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.