A Greenfield man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal weapons charge, in a case that grew out of an investigation into what the authorities said was a homemade bomb he detonated in a neighbor’s empty vehicle.
Alexander Arsenault, 35, is scheduled to be sentenced May 18.
On Dec. 1, 2018, a local family reported to Greenfield police that they’d heard a loud sound like an explosion around 6:30 a.m., and that their Jeep was damaged, according to an affidavit written by FBI Special Agent Shayne Tongbua. The family, the Conways, told police they had not received any threats and observed no suspicious activity the night before, but said their neighbor Arsenault “had some previous ‘issues’ with their boys riding their four wheeler,” Tongbua wrote.
That day, investigators interviewed Arsenault, who denied having complaints with his neighbors but said he didn’t like people riding by his home on a snowmobile trail, according to the affidavit.
Over the next several weeks, someone tipped off the FBI that Arsenault was acquiring materials to create small explosives for target practice and had talked of buying a large amount of lighter fluid so he could blow things up in his backyard and put the videos on YouTube, according to the affidavit.
The same tipster, Tongbua stated in the affidavit, later said Arsenault was thinking about blowing up a shed on his own property.
Meanwhile, Greenfield police received complaints of loud noises, thought to be small explosions, near Arsenault’s home, according to the affidavit.
Records from eBay showed that in November 2018, an account associated with Arsenault bought surgical tape, duct tape and matches similar to materials recovered from the damaged Jeep weeks later, Tongbua added.
Arsenault was indicted in November 2019 on a charge of possession of an unregistered firearm, defined in federal law to include explosive devices. The charge refers to his possession of “an explosive bomb” on the day the Jeep was damaged.
In a news release Thursday announcing the plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Concord said investigators reviewing evidence from the explosion determined it had been caused by “a homemade bomb consisting of a low explosive main charge and a non-electrical fusing system.”
“A search of Arsenault’s home yielded a typed out document about how to answer law enforcement questions regarding the destruction of a vehicle,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The maximum sentence for the charge is 10 years, according to Arsenault’s plea agreement. It does not specify what sentences the prosecution and defense will request.
Arsenault has been free on conditions including that he have no contact with the Conways and live at a specified address, which is redacted in the version of the relevant court order filed online.
“The quick and decisive action by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and our partners at the Greenfield Police Department, averted an already hazardous situation from spiraling dangerously out of control,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, in the news release.