Five men accused of plotting to blow up the state Route 82 bridge between Cleveland and Akron remained in the custody of authorities Wednesday after a daylong federal court hearing in which government attorneys played nighttime surveillance videos showing four of the five suspects allegedly planting explosives at the base of the bridge.
“These five defendants planted bombs, or what they thought were bombs, underneath the bridge,” U.S. Attorney Duncan Brown told Federal Judge David D. Dowd Jr.
Brown said they acted with no regard for the safety of people who were in the park that night or passing over the bridge in their vehicles.
The suspects appeared with their attorneys in orange jail clothes and shackles during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Akron.
Brown, who works in the Cleveland division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit, told Dowd the suspects all have notable criminal records and pose a dangerous threat to public safety if they were to be released.
Dowd took the matter of continuing custody under advisement. He set a June 15 deadline for government lawyers to compile transcripts of some 50 hours of taped surveillance conversations and turn them over to the defense for review leading up to formal arguments on bond.
The alleged plotters, described by federal authorities as self-proclaimed anarchists when their arrests were announced late last month, are Douglas L. Wright, 26, of Indianapolis; Brandon L. Baxter, 20, of Lakewood; Connor C. Stephens, 20, of Berea; and Joshua S. Stafford, 23, and Anthony Hayne, 35, both of Cleveland.
They were arrested by a team of federal law enforcement officers on the night of April 30 as they were attempting to detonate what turned out to be fake bombs provided by an FBI undercover agent.
Suspect brags on tape
Prosecutors said Wednesday the arrests were made outside of an Applebee’s restaurant, 25 miles north of the bridge, as the men were using cell-phone codes, several times, in attempts to activate the fake bombs.
Brown told the judge the men could be heard on the surveillance tapes laughing about the plan on their way to the bridge and after leaving, with one of the suspects saying, “We just committed the biggest act of terrorism in Cleveland since the 1960s.”
The undercover agent was wired and had discussed various nationwide plots with the men as far back as October.
Among their targets, Brown said, were the Detroit-Superior Veterans Memorial Bridge, the downtown Cleveland justice center and the NATO summit earlier this month in Chicago.
The men were indicted by a federal grand jury May 3 on three counts each of conspiracy, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction to destroy property in interstate commerce and attempted use of an explosive device to destroy property in interstate commerce.
They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Cleveland defense attorney John Pyle, who represents Baxter, told Dowd the charges alone were not sufficient to keep the men in custody, because it was the FBI informant who provoked them to plan all aspects of the bombing and to attempt to carry it out.
Such an informant, used since the 1800s by various governments in matters of state espionage, is known as an “agent provocateur.”
“Without the government provocateur,” Pyle said Wednesday outside of court, “these guys could barely blow their noses, let alone blow up a bridge.”
Pyle said the informant’s hand “was in everything. His money, which I guess he got from the government, was in everything.”
Dowd has scheduled a Sept. 17 trial date.
The targeted bridge, a massive structure more than 1,100 feet long, stands in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Summit and Cuyahoga counties. No one was injured during the events leading up to the arrests.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.