SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah man was sentenced Thursday to 27 months in federal prison for what authorities said was a plot to blow up a police station, kill officers and trigger an anti-government uprising.
A lawyer for John Huggins disputed that during a sentencing hearing in Salt Lake City, saying the 48-year-old wouldn’t have carried out any violence. Huggins was encouraged by an unreliable police informant, said the lawyer, Adam Bridge.
“There is no plot to hurt or kill police officers,” Bridge said. “I don’t think Mr. Huggins was willing to go as far as the government says he would.”
Prosecutors contend Huggins did make threats against police in Tremonton, about 75 miles north of Salt Lake City, and had a fascination with explosives. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Choate said Huggins was not enticed by either of two informants who were part of the investigation.
Huggins, who has been behind bars since his arrest nearly a year ago, pleaded guilty in March to one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device.
Investigators say they found a homemade grenade-like device constructed from an energy-drink bottle in Huggins’ trailer home last July after a getting a tip that he was targeting a police station.
Huggins said Thursday that he stopped short of fully arming the device but accepts responsibility in the case.
“I want to be a productive, law abiding member of society,” he said. He is a military veteran who has struggled with substance abuse and mental health problems since losing his job and later getting divorced in 2003, according to court papers.
U.S. District Judge David Nuffer also sentenced Huggins to three years of supervised release. He had faced up to 10 years in federal prison. Prosecutors dropped two other charges related to explosive devices in exchange for his guilty plea in March.
Huggins’ arrest came after a person described as a “concerned citizen” told investigators that Huggins talked about assassinating two officers and blowing up the police station in Tremonton, authorities said. He also threatened to blow up bridges and other infrastructure to prevent emergency responders from being able to help, according to court records.
Bridge said things Huggins said were generally apocalyptic rather than specifically threatening.
Shortly before his arrest, Huggins met with an undercover FBI agent and confidential police informant at a restaurant in Tremonton. During the meeting, he’s accused of offering to build and sell explosive devices and bomb-making material.
Tremonton Police Chief David Nance has said police also found five spiral notebooks detailing police activities and officer call signs from radio traffic during an unrelated search of Huggins’ home in March 2013.
Nance has described Huggins as a survivalist who once attempted to establish a militia, a characterization his lawyer says is wrong.
Huggins has a history of run-ins with the Tremonton police dating back more than a decade. In 2001 and 2002, Huggins was convicted of assault and discharging a firearm toward a building.
Six years later, a police task force discovered a homemade pipe bomb while arresting him on drug violations. Huggins pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges of drug possession, illegally possessing a handgun and recklessness with an incendiary device.