WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Two months ago, a federal prosecutor accused Michael Reynolds, a 47-year-old transient who lived with his elderly mother in Wilkes-Barre, of trying to work with Al Qaeda to blow up fuel facilities in at least three states.
Now officials say that Reynolds, who was snared in an FBI sting, may not have been as much of a terrorist as the prosecutor made him out to be.
An FBI official in Washington said that the agency has since concluded that Reynolds might be mentally ill and not as serious a threat as originally believed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because much of the information in the case has been sealed by a federal judge.
Reynolds offered to seek outpatient mental health counseling as a condition of his release pending trial, according to a bail request filed by his lawyer.
The FBI arrested Reynolds in December after he tried to meet a purported Al Qaeda contact about 25 miles from a hotel in Pocatello, Idaho, where he had been staying. At the meeting he expected to receive $40,000 to finance an alleged plot to blow up pipelines and refineries.
Reynolds' Al Qaeda contact, whom he had met online, turned out to be a Montana judge who was working for the FBI.
Reynolds, who was convicted in the 1970s of trying to blow up his parents' house in New York state, is being held without bail in Lackawanna County jail on unrelated charges of illegally possessing hand grenades. He foiled crimes in three states. He also wrote that he had worked as a first-grade teacher in Thailand over the past year.
The two-page typewritten letter could not be authenticated, but the envelope it came in was marked with a prison stamp.
Reynolds has a lengthy rap sheet that includes convictions for attempted arson, disorderly conduct and breach of the peace.
The 1978 arson conviction stemmed from an attempt to blow up his parents' house in Purdys, N.Y., using gasoline, open cans of paint, a disconnected propane gas line and a timing device. The house caught on fire but the propane failed to ignite, and his parents escaped unharmed, said Drew Outhouse, a fire chief who responded to the blaze.
"Mike came up the driveway screaming, 'My mother and father are dead, my mother and father are dead.' They weren't dead," Outhouse said Wednesday.