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Glen Burnie bomb suspect pleads guilty in federal court

A Glen Burnie man accused of endangering his neighbors by building bombs in his home pleaded guilty to a federal firearms charge Thursday.

Todd Wheeler Jr. could receive up to 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in September. After his federal conviction, Anne Arundel County prosecutors are expected to drop more than 20 state charges that Wheeler built and owned explosive devices.

The federal firearms charge stemmed from a pistol, flare launcher, signal launcher and homemade devices that investigators found in Wheeler's home in the Harundale neighborhood. Wheeler was prohibited from owning firearms under U.S. law because he used illegal drugs.

Police and fire officials began investigating Wheeler on New Year's Day when he burned his left hand and was taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, according to a statement of facts read in court by A. David Copperthite, an assistant U.S. attorney.

Wheeler, 28, tried to flee the hospital but was stopped and eventually spoke with investigators, Copperthite said. He told agents he had set off five improvised explosive devices at his home and the last one "blew off his pants," according to federal court documents.

Investigators went to the Millersville home of Wheeler's grandparents, where they found explosive chemicals and shipping containers with his name on them, Copperthite said. They then searched Wheeler's home on Edgerly Road.

During a two-day search, investigators said, they found jars filled with chemical powders, a dozen homemade bombs, two improvised detonators and needles scattered around the house. At a rear door, they found a disconnected booby trap that would have fired a shotgun shell, Copperthite said.

Investigators also found a pistol, a flare gun, a tactical signal launcher and four homemade explosive devices that met the definition of a firearm, Copperthite said. There also were conversion inserts for the flare gun and signal launcher to enable them to fire shotgun shells.

Wheeler was arrested Jan. 3, and Anne Arundel County police and fire officials said at the time that they might have averted a disaster. Had Wheeler successfully detonated some of his materials, the blast could have covered 50 square yards, fire investigators said.

Wheeler also owned bomb-making manuals with titles such as "The Poor Man's James Bond" and "Highly Explosive Pyrotechnic Compositions," according to Anne Arundel investigators.

Investigators and prosecutors have not offered any motive behind Wheeler's activities.

Wheeler, who wore a dark-green jail uniform, said little in court, mostly answering routine questions from Judge William D. Quarles about whether he understood the ramifications of pleading guilty to the charge of illegal possession of firearms.

Wheeler had been disqualified from owning firearms because of his use of illegal drugs dating to at least 2006, Copperthite said.

When Wheeler was in the hospital, he tested positive for opiates, cocaine and other substances, according to court records.

Wheeler had been incarcerated in Anne Arundel County since he was released from the hospital in January but will be moved to Baltimore to serve the remainder of a nine-month sentence for violating probation on a 2012 charged of driving while impaired.

Once that sentence is complete, he'll be sentenced on the federal charge Sept. 8.

Copperthite declined to comment after the plea hearing, as did Wheeler's attorney, Laura Robinson of Glen Burnie. Capt. Robert Howarth, lead investigator on the case for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, observed the plea hearing but also declined to comment.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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