Bomb suspect to remain in prison
JOHNSTOWN – A former Penn State Altoona student accused of building explosive devices in his off-campus Altoona apartment will remain behind bars pending trial, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson reversed a magistrate’s order granting Vladislav Miftakhov, 18, bail pending the outcome of his case.
In his decision filed late Friday, Gibson placed great weight on the fact that Miftakhov, a former Penn State engineering student, violated conditions of “informal probation” imposed on him by a juvenile court judge in San Carlos, Calif., for a minor trespassing charge.
According to testimony before Gibson on Thursday, Miftakhov while in California attended a party at a friend’s home when the friend’s parents were not there.
The parents became angry, and Miftakhov was charged with trespassing and placed on informal probation, which is like the accelerated rehabilitation program in Pennsylvania. If the probation is successfully completed, the youth’s record is purged.
He was placed on three months’ probation, and during that short period of time, he entered Penn State Altoona as a freshman engineering student.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Eberle argued that Miftakhov, rather than conforming with the rules of probation, smoked marijuana on a regular basis, attempted to grow marijuana in his room and made explosive devices that Agent Ben Cornali of U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified could cause property damage as well as injury or death to a person.
Altoona police allege Miftakhov exploded one device and built at least two others.
Police found the 42 empty compressed gas canisters in the room, which the U.S. attorney considered potential bombs.
“Thus, when considering Miftakhov’s history and characteristics, the Court finds Miftakhov has shown a pattern of unlawful behavior and that he has shown an unwillingness to comply with the terms of his probation in California,” Gibson concluded.
The defense, led by Assistant Federal Public Defender Christopher Brown, argued extensively that Miftakhov was only making fireworks in his room, not bombs.
Gibson’s eight-page opinion pointed out two canisters in his room contained a perchlorate explosive mixture and that chemicals found in his room were dangerous.
He referred to Cornali’s description of the devices as “explosive bombs,” and he said, “Miftakhov’s actions posed significant danger to himself, to other individuals living in the apartment [six other male students resided there], and to police officers who searched the apartment.”
A point made by the Gibson was that police found a can of Static Guard spray with the bomb-making chemicals and canisters, an indication that Miftakhov knew the danger of what he was doing and took steps to prevent static sparks.
Miftakhov is a Russian citizen, but his attorney emphasized that he has been in the United States since he was age 4 and has little ties with Russia with only a grandmother living there.
Gibson pointed out that Miftakhov could, as a citizen of Russia, obtain a new passport from a Russian Consulate and leave the country.
The judge therefore concluded Miftakhov was not only a danger to the community but also a flight risk.
Miftakhov is only three months past being classified as a juvenile, and the defense sought to characterize him as a “boy” who, like many young people, made a serious mistake.
The defense stressed that he was not a loner, not a flight risk, and not dangerous.
Brown presented a series of letters attesting to Miftakhov’s good character.
For instance, Lesya Pischevskaya of Media Solutions Noosphere Ventures in California called him a “good kid, modest, but with a good sense of humor.” She called his arrest “a complete misunderstanding.”
Ulyana and Alexander Babanova of Bothwell, Wash., called Penn State a great university and said it was a good place “where Vlad can apply his inquisitive bright mind and start a career in engineering.”
Pavel Bogdanova of Palo Alto sald Miftakhov was “a responsible and thoughtful young man, with a passion to technology and science.”
He said the youth liked to hike with his father and work on electric cars.
U.S. Magistrate Keith Pesto granted Miftakhov bail on Feb. 6, but the prosecution appealed the ruling, asking Judge Gibson to overturn it.
Gibson granted the government’s motion for revocation and stated Pesto’s order was “reversed and vacated.”
Miftakhov is being housed in the Cambria County Prison.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.