Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the case of a Deer Park man who allegedly planted a pipe bomb in a Home Depot store in Huntington as part of a $2 million extortion plot.
Daniel Sheehan, 50, is charged in federal court in Central Islip with both extortion and use of a destructive device in the commission of extortion. As part of the scheme, he also is accused of threatening to explode pipe bombs in three other Home Depot stores on Long Island on the busy shopping day of Black Friday if he did not receive the money.
Sheehan, who worked as a handyman, was a part-time employee of the Home Depot store in Deer Park.
Sheehan already has acknowledged that he was engaged in the extortion plot, but has insisted that the device he placed in the Huntington store on Oct. 15, 2012, was not functional, and, further, that before he was caught by FBI agents working with Suffolk police and the Suffolk district attorney's office, he already had given up on his scheme.
But federal prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz has said that the device found in the Huntington store was functioning and would have seriously injured dozens of people if it had gone off. The device exploded without injuring any investigators when officials attempted to neutralize it, she said. About 50 customers in the Huntington store were evacuated when the device was discovered.
At Sheehan's arraignment in federal court in November, Treinis Gatz said Sheehan sent an extortion note to Home Depot, referencing Black Friday, the traditionally busy shopping day after Thanksgiving.
Sheehan wrote, she said: "if you drop off anything besides U.S.-circulated currency, I will end Black Friday and all the following sales events until I am caught."
Whether the device was functional could affect Sheehan's sentence, if he is convicted. Use of a destructive device in the commission of another serious crime under federal law carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. Conviction on extortion carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
"Mr. Sheehan's depression and dissatisfaction with his employment at the Home Depot led to his absurd plan to attempt to extort money from the company, and he admits his guilt to that crime," said Sheehan's attorney, Leonard Lato, of Hauppauge. "As to the device that he placed in the Huntington store, he designed the device so that it would not work, and no one was ever in danger. He therefore contests his guilt with respect to the charge that he used a destructive device."
Treinis Gatz declined to comment, as did Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the Eastern District.
At his arraignment, Sheehan had unsuccessfully argued to federal Magistrate Gary Brown that he should be released on bail briefly to see his wife and young son. "So all I'm looking for is a way to get home so that the family of mine can get adjusted to life without me and then I'll come back," he said.
Before that, Sheehan had told Brown, "I did not have any of the parts to build a second device. . . . I had quit. I had bailed out and I had stopped."
Sheehan was caught after investigators got a wiretap order to locate the cellphone, using GPS technology, used to make an anonymous threatening call to Home Depot as part of the plot, sources have said.
That tap led FBI agents to locations near Sheehan's home and job at the Deer Park Home Depot, and eventually to him, sources said. "FBI agents were even out in Hurricane Sandy following the phone's GPS," the sources said, referring to the week before Sheehan's arrest.