MARQUETTE - A Sault Ste. Marie man accused of possessing more than 4,000 pounds of explosives will remain in custody following a preliminary hearing Monday in Marquette.
John Francis Lechner, 64, is charged with possessing explosives while under indictment on other charges, a 10-year felony.
Timothy DeClare, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), testified that, through the aid of a confidential informant, he located 4,150 pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO). ANFO, he said, is a blasting agent often used in commercial enterprises like mining.
In order to legally purchase or possess the substance, an individual must obtain permits through the ATF. DeClare said Lechner had applied for a permit in the past, but was never granted one.
According to an affidavit from a special agent with ATF, the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department received a call from a confidential informant that Lechner allegedly had a large amount of ANFO. The affidavit said the informant, who was cooperating with law enforcement and wearing surveillance equipment, allegedly helped Lechner hide the material at a location in Dafter.
When ATF agents searched the location afterward, they found 83 bags of material, weighing about 50 pounds each - a total weight of about 4,150 pounds, according to the affidavit. The affidavit further states agents also found one box of explosive boosters, two rolls of detonating cord and two boxes of blasting caps at Lechner's mother's residence in Dafter after obtaining a search warrant. In his affidavit, DeClare said the confidential informant asked Lechner what he was planning. "When the government gets taken over, we will be mercenaries," Lechner reportedly replied.
"For reasons that are completely unexplained, the defendant was in possession of 4,000 pounds of explosives with enough blasting caps, detonator cord and boosters to ignite that," U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley said. "The court has been given no reason for him to have that and he was making efforts to hide that from the ATF, as the testimony indicates, and made anti-government statements."
Lechner remains in custody pending arraignment.