PITTSBURGH – A Russian-born college student pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of building bombs without a federal 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. The defense did not immediately return messages Thursday for comment, but has said Miftakhov only meant to create noise with the explosives, not mayhem. Prosecutors said his intentions weren’t clear.
Miftakhov, 18, was a Penn State-Altoona student from San Carlos, Calif., when he was arrested Jan. 24.
He has been jailed since local police acted on a landlord’s tip that Miftakhov was growing marijuana and police found bomb-making materials in his apartment. The materials included an unexploded device containing about a half-pound of volatile chemicals in the apartment about 85 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Miftakhov was originally scheduled to enter the guilty plea Aug. 19, but a judge last month rescheduled the change of plea hearing for Thursday. He is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 11 in Johnstown before U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson.
The charge of manufacturing an explosive device without a license carries up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years’ probation. A federal prosecutor indicated there was a plea agreement, but its terms weren’t spelled out in the courtroom Thursday and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pittsburgh declined to comment on it.
Federal public defender Christopher Brown has argued that Miftakhov meant to detonate the bombs only to make noise. He won a federal magistrate’s order in February to release Miftakhov from jail pending trial, arguing that prosecutors were wrongly invoking the Boston Marathon bombing, allegedly by a Russian-born college student and his brother, in order to make Miftakhov’s case seem more serious than it really was.
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 the community.
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.
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 present when Miftakhov detonated two small devices in a field, each containing about 3 grams of chemicals, prompting neighbors to come out of their homes. The unexploded bomb found in Miftakhov’s apartment was more than 60 times larger.