US adds detail to Felton case

Filing describes alleged plot

Boston Globe/February 27, 2002
By Thanassis Cambanis

The Leo Felton prosecutors want to put on trial is a man they describe as a rabid white supremacist, eager to light a fuse that would bring down a Boston landmark and simultaneously set off a ''racial holy war.''

Federal prosecutors have charged Felton, 30, a convicted felon, and his girlfriend, Erica Chase, 21, with a racially motivated conspiracy to bomb a Jewish or black landmark in Boston and say they've tied them to a web of neo-Nazi organizations.

Documents filed in US District Court this week by federal prosecutors offer the greatest detail so far about the alleged conspiracy that involved Felton, Chase, and a cell of white supremacists who financed their planned exploits through bank robbery and counterfeiting.

Felton collected books such as ''Silent Death,'' a guide to bio-terrorism, and drew a comic strip about a white supremacist who bombs Jewish offices and synagogues after being released from prison, according to the prosecutors' filing.

Next Friday, Felton's lawyer will argue before US District Judge Nancy Gertner that most of the government's evidence should be thrown out because it was seized in illegal searches.

''That's ultimately the hardest part of this case: Making a jury after Sept. 11 stop and say, even though I don't like this guy's ideas, I'm supposed to be deciding whether in fact he does bad things, and not just say I don't like his ideas,'' said Felton's court-appointed lawyer, Lenore Glaser.

If Glaser has her way, the jury that will hear Felton's case in July will confront a relatively generic criminal case: an ex-convict charged with bank robbery, counterfeiting, and plotting to manufacture a bomb.

According to motions filed by lawyers representing Felton and Chase, Felton never consented to the wide-ranging searches of his car and the Ipswich home where his wife lives. Timothy Watkins, Chase's federal defender, said his client initially cooperated with investigators after her arrest in April and agreed to let federal agents search the North End apartment she shared with Felton because she received assurances as to how she, her friends, and family would be treated.

''Government agents made promises they had no intention of keeping,'' Watkins said.

Chase, he added, ''still absolutely denies that she ever intended to commit any violent acts against any person or group.''

In a 55-page filing, Assistant US Attorney S. Theodore Merritt outlined the evidence seized at Felton's marital home, at the apartment he shared with Chase, in his car, and from the Needham home of a friend who allegedly destroyed bomb material belonging to the defendants after their arrest on counterfeiting charges last April.

The evidence paints a picture of Felton as the leader of a dedicated band of white supremacists plotting a bombing campaign intended to touch off a race war.

''Felton always talked about killing blacks and Jews but always in a joking manner,'' Chase told a group of federal agents on April 25, according to court documents.

Investigators found a coffeemaker from which Felton had removed the timer and heating element, allegedly telling Chase the devices could be used to ignite explosives.

They also found books such as ''Wide Open to Terrorism'' and a hand-drawn comic strip with a story line similar to the charges prosecutors have outlined against Felton.

One such comic, available on the Internet, describes the story of a skinhead named Athanaric who murders a Jewish leader and his family in New York, before mounting an attack against a complex of Jewish offices in Cambridge using the lethal biological agent ricin. In the illustrations, the character researches targets on a computer, warns news media before making attacks, and consecrates his weapons to a leader resembling Adolf Hitler.

For the first time, the filing names alleged co-conspirators other than Thomas Struss, who knew Felton in prison in New Jersey. Struss told investigators that Felton had discussed ''potential targets of the bombings, including the National Holocaust Museum.''

In the Salem Street apartment investigators said they also found a letter from alleged co-conspirator Michael Reid, who was in prison at the time and has not been indicted along with Felton. In the letter he urges Felton to ''plan well and be careful ... Many 'dry runs.'!''

Merritt also revealed that Chase attempted to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors in May, making a proffer, the first step in a plea agreement. But prosecutors didn't think Chase had furnished enough information and proceeded to indict her along with Felton in June, according to the filing.

Prosecutors had previously said they discovered in Felton and Chase's apartment 10 ''bird-bombs,'' small explosive devices that can detonate larger bombs. According to the most recent filing, Chase's friend [Ms. M.] admitted that she disposed of fuses and 50 pounds of ammonium nitrate for bomb-making - the same material used by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

With Chase facing a maximum of about 35 years and Felton the prospect of a life term, prosecutors say they have a strong case and constitutional grounds to use the evidence seized from Felton's homes and car, along with Chase's statements to investigators.

While Felton's lawyer is expected to argue next week that the First Amendment protects hate literature, prosecutors intend to marshal evidence of Felton's ties to white supremacist groups to establish motive and intent, a crucial part of their case.

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