Miftakhov bomb charges move to federal court

JOHNSTOWN – Former Penn State Altoona student Vladislav Miftakhov, a native of Russia, will be prosecuted by federal authorities after bombs and bomb-making materials were found in an Altoona apartment last month.

Miftakhov was charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device, which carries with it a possible 10-year prison sentence.

As part of transferring the case, the state charges against Miftakhov will be withdrawn.

After the new federal charge was announced by U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania David J. Hickton, the 18-year-old was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Keith Pesto.

Pesto scheduled a preliminary hearing for Miftakhov Monday afternoon, at which time specifics of the charge will be heard and the question of bail will be reviewed.

U.S. Attorney James T. Kitchen said he will oppose bail. Kitchen will prosecute the charge against the teen, who was arrested by Altoona police last month for having bomb-making materials and destructive devices in his off-campus apartment at 118 N. Ninth Ave.

Pesto will have to consider the safety of the community as well as the potential for flight by Miftakhov, who grew up in San Carlos, Calif., as he decides whether to allow bail.

Miftakhov drew police attention on Jan. 24 because of his landlord’s suspicions that he had a marijuana growing operation in a room of his apartment.

The suspect allowed police to search the building, and two officers found a suitcase that had an aluminum container with an exposed fuse and a compressed gas cartridge with a fuse. The second container was referred to by federal officials as a “cricket” bomb, sometimes known as a “kid” bomb.

A continued search turned up atomized magnesium and potassium perchlorate.

Miftakhov initially told officers he was making firecrackers but then said “he was going to blow things up,” according to federal affidavit of probable cause.

Two completed devices containing those chemicals were found, it was reported.

An expert from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives indicated in the affidavit that when the chemicals were mixed, the resulting device is “extremely sensitive to impact, friction, static spark, and heat.”

ATF agent in charge, Essam Rabadi from Philadelphia, was asked how powerful the explosives attributed to Miftakhov might be.

He said he couldn’t comment yet because the ATF is conducting tests at its laboratory to answer that question.

The affidavit, however, said Miftakhov went with a friend to a nearby field and used a lighter to ignite a fuse on one device and that it made a “large and loud” explosion. He also set off a second device.

Those devices allegedly contained 1.5 grams each of magnesium and potassium.

A week after the first two explosions, Miftakhov approached the same individual with a larger canister, stating it contained more than 200 grams of explosive material.

The friend wanted no part of that.

The devices, according to Hickton, are required to be registered under the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Miftakhov’s devices were not registered, it is charged.

Altoona Police Chief Janice Freehling said the officers who initially responded to the complaint about Miftakhov had military training and were able to recognize the potential of making improvised explosive devices when they saw the material the student had in his apartment building.

As the investigation continued and expanded to include the FBI and ATF, Miftakhov was charged in Blair County with 10 offenses, including possession of weapons of mass destruction, risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio and his First Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard decided the case should be transferred to the federal court in Johnstown.

“It is clear that federal law will provide the ability to obtain a tougher sentence upon conviction of this defendant,” Consiglio stated.

The explosive devices, he said, “were being put together at the Penn State campus. There are a lot of kids there. It could have been a disaster for this campus and the kids [if an IED were exploded]. That is my concern.”

Miftakhov, a slightly built young man with disheveled hair, dressed in jeans, a dark wool coat and tennis shoes, was escorted in the courtroom by two burly U.S. Marshals.

Pesto allowed him to talk with his attorney for the day, Chris Brown from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Pittsburgh.

Miftakhov’s Blair County attorney Robert Donaldson said he still represented him but asked the public defender to represent the suspect during his initial appearance in court.

He said he will meet with Miftakhov in the Cambria County Prison today.

Donaldson said he has also advised Miftakhov’s parents to obtain an immigration attorney.

While Miftakhov has resided in the United States since age 4 and visited his native Russia once with his stepfather, he has no real connection there, Donaldson said.

Miftakhov is a “lawful, permanent resident of the United States,” Brown said.

Pesto told Miftakhov Thursday’s proceedings were “not a trial, not a hearing, not a time to present evidence.”

He then advised him of his right to remain silent.