WASHINGTON — A friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday for allegedly lying seven times to the FBI about what happened to Tsarnaev's laptop computer and backpack containing fireworks.
Robel K. Phillipos of Cambridge, Mass., was charged with two counts of making false and misleading statements about a purported attempt by two other friends to get rid of the incriminating evidence in the April terrorist attack that claimed three lives.
If convicted, Phillipos faces up to 16 years in prison. He was arrested along with the two other Tsarnaev friends, who also have been indicted, but Phillipos was released on bail and is serving house detention.
The indictment says the 19-year-old lied to FBI agents after he was interviewed over a period of six days about what happened with several of Tsarnaev’s belongings taken from his dorm room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
Federal officials think Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov placed the items in a dumpster after Tsarnaev encouraged them in a text message to go to his room and "take what’s there," authorities said. The backpack was later recovered from a local landfill. The laptop has not been found.
The indictment says Phillipos gave seven false and misleading statements to federal agents when he claimed he entered Tsarnaev’s dorm only once after the bombing and spoke to Tsarnaev for just 10 minutes. He told the agents he did not observe anyone take a backpack out of the room, and he never saw the backpack there anyway.
He also told them he did not see fireworks in the dorm room, and that neither he nor the others "took a backpack" from the room, the indictment says. And he said he was unaware that his other two friends removed anything and that he did not talk to them "regarding plans to discard in the trash a backpack," the indictment says.
The backpack, recovered after 30 agents combed through the landfill, contained fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, a thumb drive and a college homework assignment sheet.
The FBI and prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, purchased a large amount of fireworks to use as explosives in the two pressure-cooker bombs they placed near the marathon finish line on April 15. The devices detonated shortly before 3 p.m., within a block of each other.
Four days later, Tamerlan was killed in a police shootout and Dzhokhar was arrested hiding in a boat.