In mid-February, a probation officer contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.
The officer said that a person who was on probation had been asked to do something by Mark Charles Barnett, a registered sex offender who was on probation for a number of offenses.
Specifically, the court documents state, Barnett had asked the other probationer to “place bombs in ten buildings.”
A. Lee Bentley III, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, announced Thursday that Barnett, 48, had been charged with possession of a firearm (destructive device) affecting commerce by a previously convicted felon. Barnett, of Ocala, Fla., faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison if convicted, according to a news release.
The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint laid out Barnett’s alleged plan, which authorities say was ultimately a plot to force Target’s stock prices to drop so that Barnett could buy cheaper stock. It also explains how the other person on probation — a confidential source whose identity is not revealed in the documents — helped authorities in the investigation.
“Target commends the law enforcement agencies responsible for apprehending this individual,” a Target spokesman said in an email, before directing questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
— Erik Sandoval (@ErikSandoval) February 16, 2017
According to the documents, Barnett asked the confidential source in January whether he “wanted to make some easy money.” Then, he offered the source $10,000 to “deliver packages” to locations.
The confidential source assumed that Barnett’s offer was tied to drugs, so he turned it down, saying he wouldn’t deliver narcotics for him.
While working for Barnett earlier this year, the confidential source heard Barnett discussing the stock market; Barnett, the affidavit states, mentioned that he had made some investments and had developed a plan to make money related to Target Corp. stocks, the documents state.
“At that time, Barnett again broached the subject of ‘making some easy money’ with the [confidential source] by ‘delivering some packages,’ ” the documents state.
On Feb. 1, Barnett stopped by the source’s Florida home, and said he had a way to make Target’s stock drop. He told the source that it could happen if the source delivered the packages for him.
Barnett would visit the source’s home again on Feb. 9, with a cardboard box in his car. Inside that box were 10 boxes for food items — stuffing mix, breakfast bars, pasta — which Barnett warned to not let bounce around, the documents state. The confidential source asked if the boxes would kill him.
“No, they’ll just take your hand off,” Barnett responded, according to the affidavit.
Barnett put the boxes in a trailer, and told the source to put them on the shelves of Target stores in Florida, New York and Virginia.
“He explained that the [confidential source] would need to remove a rubber band on the exterior of each of the boxes in order to activate a triggering device that was inside,” the affidavit states. “Once the boxes had detonated inside of Target stores, Barnett theorized that the company’s stock value would plunge allowing him to cheaply acquire shares before an eventual rebound.”
Barnett gave the source money for the trip, and gear that was supposed to make an investigation more difficult for law enforcement. But instead of visiting the Target stores with the devices, the affidavit states, the source turned them over to law enforcement.
Each of the devices had been constructed using a “small food box” and contained a power source, the affidavit states. The power source was connected with a switch to an aerial shell and “model rocket motor igniter.”
According to the documents, an ATF explosives officer determined that once the switch flipped, “an electrical current would flow causing the rocket motor to ignite the explosive powders contained within the shell. This act would result in a violent explosion capable of causing property damage, serious injury, or death to nearby persons.”
On Tuesday, the confidential source again met with Barnett, this time wearing a recording device that captured their conversation in a local restaurant. The source told Barnett that four devices were already in place in Target stores that were located in states just north of Florida.
“Barnett responded by telling the [confidential source] to ‘get as far north as you can go’ because ‘we didn’t want to make it a localized thing,’ ” the documents state. “The [confidential source] assured Barnett that he planned to go as far as Syracuse, New York, for that purpose.”
Barnett suggested that the source start in New York state and proceed back down the East Coast, the affidavit alleges.
“He added, ‘Put one in each state,’ I guess,’ ” according to the documents, which also note that Barnett said he had been watching the stock market, to see if “anything major happens.”
Authorities searched Barnett’s home after the recorded meeting, the documents state. The Ocala Star-Banner reported that he was taken into custody in a parking lot Tuesday. Court records did not yet list an attorney for Barnett on Friday evening.