A Deer Park man who attempted to extort $2 million from Home Depot by threatening to bomb three of its Long Island stores was caught by FBI agents because he used a cellphone he thought was untraceable to acquire equipment to carry out his plan, according to court testimony and records.
Daniel Sheehan, 50, who worked part time at the Home Depot store in Deer Park, has been on trial this week in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on charges of extortion and using a destructive device in the commission of a felony.
The device is a pipe bomb that Sheehan planted last October in the Huntington Home Depot, according to Eastern District prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz.
Sheehan's defense attorney, Leonard Lato of Hauppauge, has admitted that his client is guilty of extortion. But he has argued that his client is not guilty of the other charge because the device was a nonfunctioning model.
In a confession when he was arrested on Nov. 7, Sheehan said he had bought the prepaid cellphone for cash, thinking it could not be traced to him, and used the phone to buy the gear and phone in extortion demands.
Sheehan acquired a scuba tank, wet and dry suits, and a personal watercraft hull. He cut a hole both in the bottom of a cooler, watercraft hull and seat, and then attach the cooler to the seat. He planned to place the apparatus in the water of Huntington Harbor and demand that the money be put into the cooler, Sheehan said.
Sheehan said in his confession that he intended "to hide in the water under the [personal watercraft] . . . and I thought I would retrieve it from beneath the [watercraft] through the holes . . . I planned to use the air tank so I could stay under water and swim away with the money."
FBI agents, working with Suffolk police and the district attorney's office, got a court order to find out the phone number from which the extortion calls were made as well as other calls made from the cell, according to records and testimony by FBI agents.
Authorities also got an order to use GPS technology to locate the position of the cell, the agents testified.
Recipients of the cellphone calls said they had either sold or given the personal watercraft hull and the underwater gear to a middle-aged male, driving a green Dodge Caravan, court records and testimony continued.
Suspecting that the most likely extortionist would be a Home Depot employee in the area, the agents checked which employees drove such a van. That led them to Sheehan, but the cellphone had been turned off.
So for two weeks from the end of October to the first week in November, agents followed Sheehan and his van around the clock, even during the height of superstorm Sandy, or watched his home, the agents testified. They hoped to catch him making a call using the cellphone, the testimony and the records say.
Sheehan, however, had turned off the cell on Oct. 26 after a last call to Home Depot. He did not activate the cell until Nov. 7, when a team of agents assigned to follow him pulled the van over, found the cellphone in the van, and arrested him.