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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 31, 2014

Downingtown Man Charged With Possessing Explosives

Istvan Merchenthaler, 43, of Downingtown, PA, was charged by indictment, unsealed today, with one count of possession of unregistered firearms and one count of being a fugitive in possession of a firearm and ammunition, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger.  Specifically, Merchenthaler is charged with possessing approximately 60 plastic PVC pipe improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”), approximately 400 cardboard tube IEDs, a 9mm Cobray M-11 semi-automatic machine pistol, and ammunition.  Merchenthaler has been in federal custody since February 16, 2013.

If convicted of both counts, Merchenthaler faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, 3 years of supervised release and a $200 special assessment.

On September 23, 2013, the federal grand jury in the District of Maryland issued an indictment charging Merchenthaler with two (2) counts of being a fugitive in possession of firearms and ammunition and one (1) count of possessing an unregistered destructive device. 

On August 6, 2013, the federal grand jury in the Eastern District of North Carolina issued an indictment charging Merchenthaler with two (2) counts of being a fugitive in possession of firearms and ammunition and one (1) count of possessing an unregistered destructive device. 

On March 7, 2013, the federal grand jury in this District issued a superseding indictment charging Merchenthaler with four (4) counts of wire fraud, two (2) counts of aggravated identity theft, four (4) counts of money laundering, two (2) counts of filing false tax returns, and two (2) counts of interstate transportation of stolen goods.  According to the superseding indictment, from at least about May 2006 to about February 2013, Merchenthaler claimed to be the founder of PhoneCard USA, a company that was purportedly a “premier distribution source” for prepaid phone cards and cell phones.  Merchenthaler, who used a number of aliases, falsely claimed that PhoneCard USA had “lucrative contracts” with major retail chain stores including Walmart, 7-Eleven, and BJ’s Wholesale Club.  Further, Merchenthaler falsely claimed to have friendships with executives at Walmart and 7-Eleven.  In reality, Merchenthaler operated a “Ponzi” scheme, stealing over $2 million from over 200 investors and using much of these funds for his own benefit and to perpetuate his scheme.

Both the Maryland and North Carolina prosecutions of Merchenthaler have been transferred to this District.  All of the above cases have been consolidated before United States District Judge Robert F. Kelly. 

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Philadelphia Police Bomb Disposal Unit, the Montgomery County Bomb Squad, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the East Whiteland Police Department, the East Whiteland Fire Department, the Malvern Fire Department, and the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Vineet Gauri.

Click here to view the indictment

UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, EASTERN DISTRICTof PENNSYLVANIA
Suite 1250, 615 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
PATTY HARTMAN, Media Contact, 215-861-8525