Defense rests in Home Depot extortion case
The defense rested Thursday in the case of a Deer Park man accused of attempting to extort $2 million from Home Depot after experts disagreed about whether a device he planted in the Home Depot in Huntington was a working pipe bomb.
Daniel Sheehan, 50, who was a Home Depot employee, is charged in federal court in Central Islip with extortion and using a destructive device in the commission of another felony by threatening to set off pipe bombs in three Home Depots on Long Island unless he was paid the money.
Sheehan had been expected to testify in his defense, but Thursday he told U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley that he would not take the stand.
"I just wanted the truth to get out and it did," Sheehan told the judge.
Sheehan has admitted that he is guilty of extortion. But his attorney, Leonard Lato of Hauppauge, maintains that the device, which had a capped steel pipe filled with explosive powder, was nonfunctioning and planted only to demonstrate Sheehan was capable of bomb-making.
The device exploded when Suffolk bomb technicians attempted to defuse it using what the prosecution says were standard law enforcement techniques. Lato maintains the blast was caused by the method the police used.
Eastern District federal prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz has attempted to ridicule that argument, saying that if Sheehan wanted to construct only a model he could have filled the pipe with pepper.
Extortion is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but if convicted of using an explosive device in this case, Sheehan could face an automatic minimum sentence of 30 years.
The jury's verdict may hinge on its interpretation of the word "readily" in the federal criminal code.
A destructive device is defined as a bomb or "any combination of parts . . . from which a destructive device may be readily assembled."
Defense explosive expert Warren Parker testified Thursday that the wires between a battery and the pipe were not attached, so no explosion could be triggered.
Parker, a retired bomb expert with both the Army and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, estimated it would take at least an hour to turn Sheehan's apparatus into a functioning bomb.
On Wednesday, FBI explosives expert Christopher Rigopoulos, testified that he considered the pipe filled with explosive and capped at both ends to be a bomb. In any event, he said, the wires could be taped to the battery quickly to enable the battery current to set it off.
The government may present a rebuttal case on Monday when the trial is scheduled to resume before Hurley.