Federal worker arrested in bomb-planting case

05/13/2014 3:39 PM

05/14/2014 1:25 AM

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee faces federal charges after allegedly planting at least two explosive devices in Madera County earlier this year.

Richard Wilson Key Jr., 37, remained behind bars Tuesday without bail in federal custody in Fresno County, according to Fresno County Sheriff’s Department booking records.

Key, a maintenance worker with the Army Corps of Engineers since 2009, was arrested Thursday by the FBI in connection with two suspected bombs. Federal agents said Key planted explosives May 4 in Madera and March 28 at a Chowchilla gas station. No one was injured during either incident, and both devices were safely defused, the FBI said in a statement.

“He has been indefinitely suspended, and will not be paid while the legal system runs its course,” said DeDe Cordell, public affairs chief for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Key has denied all charges and is due to appear in court May 23, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

His family declined to comment Tuesday.

Col. Mike Farrell, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, said he was “tremendously relieved” there were no injuries and pledged “full support” for the investigation.

“For an agency focused on increasing public safety, it is alarming to have one of our employees arrested for these charges,” Farrell said.

Authorities have not commented on any possible motives.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, a pipe bomb was found just before 6 p.m. March 28 on the ground between two large trash bins at the Shell gas station in the 100 block of North Chowchilla Boulevard.

“Written on the top of one of the caps in black pen were the words: ‘Pull to open’ and a smiley face was drawn on the bottom of the cap,” the complaint says. “The writing ... demonstrated that this bomb was manufactured for the purpose of killing or seriously injuring an unsuspecting victim.”

Investigators used surveillance footage to track the suspect, who, after allegedly planting the bomb, drove to a nearby fast-food restaurant. He apparently was seen wearing his work clothes, which helped the FBI and Chowchilla police identify him as a suspect, the complaint says.

Details on the May 4 incident could not be confirmed Tuesday.

Cordell said maintenance workers such as Key have duties that include computing and making flood releases; inspecting, repairing and maintaining structures and systems of the dam and participating in the annual inspections.

“The maintenance staff also maintains and repairs park facilities,” Cordell said. “Maintenance skills include, but are not limited to, simple electrical and mechanical work, simple carpentry, painting and plumbing work.”

According to the complaint, Key did have access to bomb-making materials through his job duties.

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