Blaster suspect a 'safety risk'

The Baltimore Sun

A well-off, retired businessman accused of creating loud bangs and flashes in the middle of the night because he was "mad at his neighbors" in Pikesville was ordered held without bail yesterday by a judge who expressed concern about the suspect "blowing up the neighborhood."

The bail for Frederick Lee Mackler, 59, had been set at $1 million after his arrest Tuesday, but Baltimore County District Judge Norman R. Stone III revoked it during a hearing yesterday in Towson.

The judge noted that the police had found 12 handguns, an Uzi submachine gun, a .223-caliber rifle, two shotguns and 200 rounds of pyrotechnic devices - as well as cocaine and marijuana - in Mackler's apartment in the upscale Stevenson Commons Condominiums.

"The public safety risk is too high," the judge said as he ordered Mackler to remain in custody.

Mackler, tanned and sporting a gray goatee and jail overalls, appeared nervous on a closed-circuit TV image beamed from the county detention center. At his lawyer's request, he said nothing.

The lawyer, Richard C. B. Woods, said Mackler had been "chronically depressed and self-medicating," and that his relatives were anxious to have him treated for substance abuse.

"I'm not a psychiatrist, but I believe this was a cry for help," Woods said. He urged the judge to release his client into the custody of his brother, Steve Mackler, and his wife, Eileen, "while we sort all this out."

In court documents, Mackler is quoted as telling police that he was "the bad boy of the condominiums" and that he was "mad at his neighbors," although it was not clear why. Mackler told investigators that for more than two years he would wake up at night, "fire shots out of his fourth-floor window" and then go back to bed.

His lawyer told the court the noise and flashes heard by neighbors did not come from fireworks but from a "bird-banger" - a device used by farmers to keep birds and animals from crops. It requires a permit from the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency, although it was not known whether Mackler has such a permit.

When Mackler was arrested and placed in a patrol car, Baltimore County Police Sgt. Vickie Warehime noticed him "moving around in the back of the car" and discovered that he had dropped a large switchblade knife on the seat. "He knew he wasn't supposed to have the knife," Officer Peter Schmedes wrote in his report.

Mackler was born in Pennsylvania and lived in Florida and New Jersey before moving in 1975 to the Baltimore area, where he established "substantial ties," fathered a daughter and was generous toward various causes, including the Chizuk Amuno Congregation, his attorney said.

Mackler retired 18 months ago as president of Consumer Lighting Products Inc., a business he owns with his brother, who was in the courtroom yesterday.

In April 1992, Mackler was charged and found guilty in District Court of two counts of battery, for which he was placed on probation for a year. He appealed the verdict in Circuit Court and was given probation before judgment, a form of deferred adjudication used in sentencing certain first-time offenders. If the probation is completed without further violations, the conviction is expunged.

In the latest case, Mackler was charged with 10 counts, including disturbing the peace, reckless endangerment, possession of fireworks without a permit, possession of illegal drugs and possession of firearms.

Woods told the judge his client has "no substance abuse problems," despite the police's discovery in his apartment of six ounces of cocaine, an ounce of marijuana, a digital scale "commonly used to weigh drugs" and a pharmaceutical pestle - enough drug paraphernalia for the police to charge him with trafficking.

The attorney stressed Mackler's "emotional investment in the community" to argue that his client posed no risk of flight should he be granted bail, but Woods did not mention that Mackler owns a home in Costa Rica.

Assistant State's Attorney Kristin Blumer took care of that, arguing that Mackler's wealth enabled him to take frequent trips to Costa Rica, and that he might well do so again if released.

"I'm not worried about him fleeing," Judge Stone replied. "I'm worried about him blowing up the neighborhood."

People living in and around the gated complex off Old Court Road where Mackler lives had long complained about the noise and flashes. When Baltimore County police were called in last fall, they were baffled.

Investigators asked the Department of Natural Resources to see whether people hunting illegally in nearby fields were responsible; they checked trash compactors, lampposts and gas pipelines; flew a helicopter over the area to shoot pictures; installed video cameras in condominium units; and sent images of flashes to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory - all to no avail.

Finally, on Monday, a camera caught "a small light flashing" from a fourth-floor window in the condo building. "A few seconds later you hear a loud bang," the charging document said.

The window turned out to be in unit 406 - Mackler's apartment.

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