75-year-old man charged with placing homemade bombs at Michigan cell phone stores

Federal prosecutors Tuesday charged a retired underground miner with extortion and attempting to destroy a building and accused him of leaving pipe bombs and threatening letters in locations across northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

John Douglas Allen, 75, of Whittemore was arrested late Monday following an FBI investigation of a dangerous crime involving homemade bombs, coded letters, spy cameras and counter-surveillance tactics ripped from a Hollywood thriller. FBI agents searched his home about 16 miles west of Tawas City before he was ordered held without bond pending a detention hearing in federal court in Bay City on Friday.

Federal court records allege Allen was motivated to plant the bombs at various cell towers because he was angry that telecommunications companies broadcast pornography, cursing and “immoral content.”

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison. His lawyer, Steven Jacobs, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The bombs, discovered earlier this month at cellphone stores in Cheboygan and Sault Ste. Marie, were stored inside boxes and contained handcuffs with either the nickname “Handcuff Johnny or the initials “HJ.” FBI investigators analyzed the bombs, which consisted of a metal pipe with two metal end caps containing explosive powder main charges. Metal spheres and nails were found within each device.

Allen was charged almost one month after the first of several letters was also found inside a polka-dotted envelope, packaged inside a sealed zip lock bag near a telecommunications tower in St. Ignace, north of the Mackinac Bridge.

The letter, which appeared to have been attached to a nearby fence but fell to the ground, contained a threat and extortion demand to AT&T, Verizon and other providers.

The next day on Aug. 26, investigators found a second letter approximately 62 miles northwest in Gould City inside a polka-dotted envelope, inside a sealed zip bag, tied to a fence. Investigators collected the letter but did not open the bag.

The same day, nearly four hours and 210 miles to the west, investigators learned a third letter was found in a polka-dotted envelope inside a sealed zip bag and tied to a fence in Ontonagon. The contents of the letter appeared to be identical to the St. Ignace letter.

The letters were sent from the “Coalition for Moral Telecommunication (CMT)” and addressed to several companies, including AT&T and Verizon.

The letters claimed CMT had almost 30 members who were “prepared to travel throughout this Country and begin distroying (sic) inner city tower communication,” unless several demands were followed, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court.

The demands included a $5 million payment and that the telecommunication companies cease distributing “immoral content,” including pornography, cursing and “all manner of indecent communication.”

The letters also warned “your problems will begin” and the “price will go up one hundred times” if any CMT members were arrested.

At the bottom of the letter was the code “CMT 5101520TG.”

Several weeks passed as concerns grew about an imminent attack.

On Sept. 15, a White man wearing a face mask, dark classes, pants, shirt and a distinctive vest was spotted on a surveillance camera inside a sporting goods store in Sault Ste. Marie.

The man was soon seen placing a box outside of an adjacent AT&T store along W. 8th Street in Sault Ste. Marie. The U.S. Postal Service box was wrapped in black tape and had a wire extending from the package.

Surveillance footage man was driving a maroon Chevrolet Uplander with a license plate 5WFE503 that appeared to be from either California or Washington.

Based on the license plate, investigators started searching for that number on vehicles that crossed the nearby Mackinac Bridge. Surveillance footage showed an identical maroon-colored van traveling southbound across the bridge on Sept. 15.

A half-hour later, a surveillance camera at a Verizon store in Cheboygan 22 miles south of the bridge captured the image of the suspect leaving a box outside the retail shop’s front door. Again, the USPS box was wrapped in black tape and had a wire extending from the package.

A Verizon employee found the box the next morning. A Michigan State Police bomb squad retrieved the package.

Six minutes later, back in Sault Ste. Marie, police were alerted to the box outside the AT&T store.

Both boxes were analyzed by FBI investigators who determined the packages contained improvised explosive devices filled with metal balls and nails.

“Hardened objects such as these enhance the explosive effect, propelling fragments of metal outwards at high velocities, which can cause additional damage and injuries,” an FBI agent wrote in the criminal filing.

FBI agents, meanwhile, focused on identifying the man shown in the surveillance photos.

Mackinac Bridge surveillance footage provided one clue.

The Aug. 24 footage showed a clearer image of what appeared to be the same maroon Chevrolet van and a California license plate SWFE503. That’s the same plate number and vehicle spotted outside the AT&T store where investigators found a bomb in Sault Ste. Marie.