A Baltimore member of a white supremacist group remained in jail last night on $2 million bail after a hearing in which prosecutors said that he was an extreme risk to public safety and his lawyers argued that he had been improperly charged.
Lovell A. Wheeler, 60, was the only defendant brought before District Judge C. Yvonne Holt-Stone yesterday in a courtroom that is normally packed with suspects seeking routine reductions in bail.
But court officials were worried about Wheeler's safety - he is a member of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance - and took the unusual step of clearing the courtroom of other defendants.
Wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit, Wheeler said little during his hearing, answering the judge's questions with "yes, ma'am." At one point, he blew his wife a kiss when she whispered that she loved him from across the room.
Wheeler, who was arrested Tuesday, is charged with possessing 80 pounds of improperly stored gunpowder, possessing it without a proper license and reckless endangerment.
In addition to the gunpowder, which was stored in plastic bottles and cans, detectives seized 22 handguns and rifles, about 100 other firearms in various stages of assembly and thousands of rounds of ammunition, police said. Wheeler has not been charged with any gun crimes.
Detectives also seized racist and white supremacist literature from his home and workplace.
Police have said they were led to the house by a tip but have declined to release more information about their investigation. Neighbors said that Wheeler was stockpiling the weapons in preparation for a potential revolution.
Noting the danger the gunpowder and ammunition could have caused if accidentally ignited, Assistant State's Attorney David Chiu argued that Wheeler should be held without bail.
"That amount of gunpowder was just waiting for a spark to happen," Chiu said.
He added that the racist literature seized from the house raised "great concerns" for the public's safety if Wheeler received bail.
But Wheeler's public defender, Marie-Ann Sennett, argued that her client should be released, saying he was a "stable resident" of his Southeast Baltimore community and had lived in the 500 block of S. East Ave. for the past eight years.
Wheeler also suffers from serious health ailments, including hypertension and diabetes, Sennett argued, and holds a steady job at a plastics company.
Sennett then contended that the two gunpowder charges filed involved statutes that had been repealed by the state legislature this year.
Holt-Stone halted the hearing. After a three-hour recess to obtain copies of the new state statutes, the judge said the gunpowder charges had indeed been repealed but were still on the books until October.
Without comment, she let stand the $2 million bail, set Wednesday by a court commissioner.