Cliffton man sentenced to prison for making threats against Fruita oil refinery and conveying false information
DENVER – Michael Leroy Schonlau, age 37, of Clifton, Colorado, was sentenced yesterday by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Marcia K. Krieger to serve 15 months for willfully making a threat and maliciously conveying false information, and for being a felon in possession of a firearm, U.S. Attorney John Walsh and FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Thomas Ravenelle announced. Chief Judge Krieger was presiding over the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Grand Junction. Following his prison sentence, Schonlau was ordered to serve 3 years on supervised release. The defendant appeared at the sentencing hearing on bond, and was ordered to report to a Bureau of Prisons facility within 15 days of designation.
Schonlau was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver on August 21, 2012. He pled guilty before Chief Judge Krieger on April 1, 2013. He was sentenced on July 15, 2013.
According to the stipulated facts contained in the defendant’s plea agreement, on August 5, 2012, at approximately 4:00 p.m., the defendant called the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) using his cellular telephone. It was determined that the defendant was located at an area known as the Gilsonite Refinery in Fruita, Colorado, at the time of the call, though he refused to directly identify his whereabouts.
Schonlau stated that he was in possession of an explosive device which was connected to a 200 million gallon propane tank on the property, and he had his hand on a “Dead Man’s Switch.” He indicated he could see all around him, and that he would detonate the tank if anyone came near. He further indicated that he had already told his family that he would not be coming home.
Police quarantined the area because of the possible explosion. The major highway through Fruita, Highway 6 & 50, and surrounding roads were closed, businesses and homes were evacuated, and the Union Pacific Railroad was shut down for approximately two hours during this threat event.
After telephone calls with an FBI negotiator, the defendant was eventually persuaded to leave the refinery. Police moved into the area of the refinery and the Grand Junction Bomb Squad searched extensively for explosives. None were found. Law enforcement surveilled the defendant has he left in a green truck, and they stopped him after he left the refinery. The officer conducting the traffic stop found an unloaded Ruger Single Six revolver underneath the front passenger seat of the vehicle. The defendant was previously convicted of Felony Theft in May 2004, and thus was prohibited from possessing a firearm.
It was eventually determined the defendant did not possess the materials necessary to carry out his threat to detonate explosives at the refinery. The site contained several large propane tanks and other explosive substances, and the defendant had brought with him two barbeque-sized propane tanks, which he left at the refinery. However, no detonation or explosives device was found, meaning he had no way of igniting any flammable substance.
“Thanks to the FBI, and the FBI’s hostage negotiator, the defendant was located, identified, and apprehended,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Schonlau’s prison sentence is just as his actions closed down most of Fruita for several hours.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, the Mesa County Bomb Squad, and the Fruita Police Department.
Schonlau was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer.