2 accused of Lake bomb plot
Officials: Bitterness led man to target judge, mayor, chief
Monday, April 10, 2006
John Horton and Rachel Dissell
Plain Dealer Reporters
North Perry -- Joseph Sands bought fuses just after 9 a.m. Sunday at an Ashland gun shop. Minutes later, officials said, his plot to bomb a judge, a mayor and a police chief in Lake County blew up in his face.
Federal and local authorities arrested Sands outside the store, ending a weeklong investigation into accusations that he intended to harm the three officials with pipe bombs.
Officials said the fuses were the final items Sands needed to build the devices.
Sands' girlfriend, Dawn Holin, 34, also was arrested Sunday at the couple's Madison Township home. Officials said she was helping Sands with the planned attacks.
The intended targets were Painesville Municipal Judge Michael Cicconetti, North Perry Mayor Thomas Williams, and North Perry Police Chief Denise Mercsak. Cicconetti was scheduled to sen tence Sands on April 20 for failing to file sales tax reports.
Bitterness fueled Sands' scheme, said Patrick Berarducci, a senior special agent with the federal Bu reau of Alcohol, To bacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"It's safe to say there was some bad blood," Berarducci said.
Painesville Municipal Court records show multiple nonviolent misdemeanors and civil cases involving Sands, 40, who operates J&B Performance auto repair shop in North Perry. He served five days in the Lake County Jail last month after pleading guilty to local tax evasion. Cicconetti handed down the sentence, which also included a $150 fine.
A jury trial on a charge of obstructing official business - a case originating in North Perry - is set to begin in the Painesville court April 21, the day after the sales tax sentencing.
Sands felt picked on by local officials, particularly the police chief, said lawyer Tim Deeb, who represented Sands in a 2004 theft case. A customer accused Sands of not providing a car repair service after being paid. Sands pleaded no contest and was found guilty.
2 accused of Lake bomb plot
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"I know he had some anger toward each of them," said Deeb, who added that he never expected Sands to lash out.
Neither Williams nor Mercsak could be reached for comment Sunday.
Cicconetti, who has made a name for himself in recent years by doling out unusual sentences, called the bomb threat chilling. The judge, his wife and their two children left their family home last week and moved in with friends as a safety precaution.
"In all my years on the bench, I've never had as much as a bad phone call," Cicconetti said.
Investigators learned of the plot last week - Berarducci would not reveal how - and launched an undercover operation that involved local and federal agencies.
Around-the-clock surveillance allowed officers to monitor Sands and Holin in the days leading to their arrests.
Agents searched the couple's house and Sands' business on Sunday. They recovered numerous firearms and items - smokeless powder, pipe and end caps - needed to make a bomb, Berarducci said.
Neighbors on the couple's quiet, residential street offered mixed views of Sands and Holin. James Moran, who lives across the road, described them as friendly. He said he never noticed anything odd at the house aside from a high number of cars pulling in and out of the driveway.
But another resident on Meadows Road said there was always talk about the pair. "When we first moved in, everyone was telling us to stay away from them," Letitia Pickett said.
Sands and Holin will be formally charged today and are scheduled to appear in federal court in Cleveland, Berarducci said. They were being held in the Eastlake city jail Sunday.
Cicconetti said he's relieved the ordeal is over.
"I may actually get some sleep tonight," the judge said.
News researcher Jo Ellen Corrigan contributed to this story.
"I think we should get a Machine Gun. We can use it to hunt game, spell out things, or ring in the New Year!" - Bart S.