By MARYCLAIRE DALE
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Pennsylvania man admitted packing explosive materials, fuses and a lighter in a suitcase he checked for a commercial flight to Florida and fled the Lehigh Valley airport when he feared arrest, federal authorities said in a court document filed Thursday.
Marc Muffley, 40, of Lansford, called his girlfriend for a ride when he heard his name being paged at the airport, and soon switched his phone number to avoid being tracked, prosecutors said.
“The danger he created … is simply astonishing,” Assistant United States Attorney Sherri A. Stephan said at a Thursday court hearing, when she asked a judge to deny bail. “The fact TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) was able to immediately locate this device and prevent it from being placed on an airplane is to their credit.”
A defense lawyer suggested that Muffley only wanted to set off fireworks on a Florida beach, where he said the one-time construction worker sometimes cares for an ailing grandfather.
However, U.S. Magistrate Pamela A. Carlos agreed to detain him without bail, finding that Muffley was both a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Authorities said the fact the explosive powder was packed in the same checked bag with the other items increased the risk of an explosion.
“The baggage also contained a can of butane, a lighter, a pipe with white powder residue suspected to be methamphetamine, a wireless drill with cordless batteries, and two GFCI outlets taped together with black tape,” prosecutors wrote in a detention memorandum filed Thursday.
“His actions seriously jeopardized the lives of airport workers and patrons, and if the explosive had not been intercepted, the flight’s passengers and the aircraft,” the memo said.
Muffley is charged with possessing an explosive in an airport and possessing or attempting to place an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft, according to a criminal complaint.
The defense lawyer, Jonathan McDonald, argued that the items were not “incendiary” and therefore did not meet the requirements of the second charge. Muffley attended the hearing, which was held via videoconference, from jail but did not speak.
“No one has posited one conceivable theory on how this thing could have gone off. That was not going to happen inside of a bag,” McDonald said.
However, Carlos found probable cause to uphold both charges.
Muffley was arrested at his home Monday night, hours after he had checked in for the Allegiant Air flight at the Lehigh Valley International Airport. The flight was bound for Orlando.
His record includes misdemeanor arrests for drug possession, theft and driving under the influence, which led to a few jail stints, the memo said. His girlfriend told authorities he feared being arrested at the airport on an outstanding child support warrant, authorities said.
They have said they found a three-inch “circular compound” wrapped in paper and plastic wrap that they believe contained a mix of flash powder and other materials used to make commercial grade fireworks.
Attached to it was a “quick fuse” similar to a candle wick — apparently part of the original manufacture of the compound — as well as a slow-burning “hobby fuse” that appeared to have been added later, they said.
Officials believe the materials could be ignited by heat and friction, and posed a significant risk to the plane and its occupants, according to the criminal complaint.