‘Phone Card’ Ponzi Schemer Caught With Pipe Bombs, IEDs And Thousands Of Rounds Of Ammunition Sentenced To Prison

ponzinews1Istvan Merchenthaler, the “PhoneCard USA” Ponzi schemer who fabricated ties to Walmart and later was caught with pipe bombs, improvised explosive devices, a machine pistol and 16 other firearms spread across three states, has been sentenced to 140 months in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also ordered Merchenthaler to make restitution of more than $3.4 million, including more than $31,000 to the state of North Carolina “for the cost of a bomb-squad robot destroyed during an investigation of a storage facility containing several improvised explosive devices, Philly.com reported today.

Prosecutors said yesterday that “several” IEDs linked to Merchenthaler in North Carolina exploded during a “render-safe” operation that resulted in damage to the robot and the storage facility.

After the Ponzi case was brought in 2012, Merchenthaler jumped bail, stole two cars and fled from police. He later was captured in Maryland, investigators said.

Here’s how prosecutors described the weaponry (italics added):

Moreover, prior to and after jumping bail [in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania], Merchenthaler amassed approximately 17 firearms and over approximately 11,580 rounds of ammunition, as well as approximately 634 improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”), which he stored in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maryland.  Approximately 67 of these IEDs were comprised of PVC pipe, almost all of which contained shrapnel in the form of nails, screws, or rocks.  The remaining approximately 567 IEDs were comprised of cardboard tubes in varying sizes and explosive power.  All of the IEDs – PVC and cardboard – were center primed with flash powder.  Merchenthaler drove these IEDs in his stolen vehicles to storage facilities in all three states.  During render safe procedures at a North Carolina storage facility, several of the IEDs exploded, resulting in damage to a bomb squad robot and the storage facility.

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