PITTSBURGH, Pa. – (WKBN) – United States Attorney Scott Brady announced Saturday that a Pittsburgh man was charged with illegal possession of an unregistered destructive device after planting a backpack of homemade explosives in an open space downtown.
Matthew Michanowicz, 52, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is charged by complaint with knowingly and unlawfully possessing a firearm.
The device counts as a firearm and was not registered to Michanowicz in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
Michanowicz was taken into custody Friday evening by the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department.
He will make his appearance in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh at a later date.
“Once again, we see that certain participants in the protests in Pittsburgh were only present to serve as agitators and to incite violence. Let’s call them what they are: criminals. They have no intention of peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights; they seek only to incite and destroy. Michanowicz brought a backpack full of homemade Molotov cocktails to downtown Pittsburgh. He wasn’t there to protest; he was there to engage in violent attacks. I hope that any organizers or protesters who are participating consistent with the First Amendment will help identify and stop agitators who seek to manipulate their protest for violent ends. Rest assured that we stand ready to prosecute such provocateurs federally,” said U.S. Attorney Brady.
According to the complaint, at approximately 8 a.m. on June 1, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) officers were called to an open area near Wood Street to respond to a suspicious bag.
They had been called by PNC security officers for a green, military style backpack located by a bicycle rack under some trees on the PNC property. PBP officers discovered three devices and a foul odor and called the PBP Bomb Squad.
The Bomb Squad found three suspected, homemade Molotov cocktails.
According to the complaint, the devices are described as “spent OC vapor grenades,” commonly used in law enforcement, which contained a fluid that had a smell similar to an ignitable liquid. The liquid was leaking out of one or more of the devices. All three devices had wicks attached to them, which were held in place by what appears to be “spray foam insulation.”
Security camera footage provided to PBP by PNC security showed someone possessing the bag at the scene where it was recovered.
On the evening of June 3, a patrolling PBP officer saw a man with a bicycle matching the description in the exact location where the bag had been discovered. The officer approached the individual to identify him and Michanowicz provided only his last name.
After releasing Michanowicz, the officer was directed to detain him and bring Michanowicz to PBP Headquarters for questioning.
During questioning, Michanowicz said he visited downtown to look at the aftermath of the riots and protests. Michanowicz admitted he was the individual depicted in photographs from the surveillance footage, but he denied possession of the bag or knowing its contents.
Michanowicz also stated he never possessed any destructive devices, including the devices recovered from the bag.
According to the complaint, on June 4, agents from The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from the Pittsburgh Field Office executed a federal search warrant at Michanowicz’s residence.
The search revealed a bundle of fuse exhibiting the same color and characteristics of the fuses found on the previously seized destructive devices, some partially burnt fuse remnants appearing to be from the same fuse bundle, a can of spray foam insulation consistent with the type of spray foam insulation applied to the exterior of all three recovered destructive devices, and a syringe emitting a strong odor consistent with an ignitable liquid.
Also found in the garage were approximately 10 camouflage backpacks that were similar in size, pattern and configuration to the bag found containing the recovered destructive devices.
A search of the trashcan in the garage revealed retail packaging of fuses and a pair of used latex gloves that emitted a strong odor consistent with the other devices.
It is unlawful for an individual to manufacture, possess, or transfer a destructive device without first being registered in ATF’s National Firearms Transfer Record (NFA) registry and without serial numbers being issued for said NFA Weapons.
An NFA inquiry made on June 4, showed there was no such registration for Michanowicz.
The count charged in the criminal complaint carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Brady credited the ATF and the Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the FBI and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, for conducting the investigation leading to the charges in this case.