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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Missouri

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 9, 2018

Grandview, Belton Men Plead Guilty to Illegal Explosives That Destroyed Business

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Timothy A. Garrison, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Belton, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to illegally trafficking in thousands of illegal fireworks and explosives following an explosion that destroyed a Grandview, Mo., business last year.

Thomas McKeehan, 67, of Belton, pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Sarah W. Hays to engaging in the business of manufacturing and dealing in explosive materials without a license.

Co-defendant James Witt, 76, of Grandview, pleaded guilty on Dec. 18, 2017, to participating in a conspiracy to engage in the business of manufacturing and dealing in explosive materials without a license.

Witt was the owner of JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment, 12010 S. 71 Hwy., Grandview, which was destroyed in an explosion on Jan. 3, 2017.

Witt admitted that he and McKeehan entered into a partnership to manufacture illegal explosive devices at Witt’s business, and to sell both the illegal explosive devices and commercial fireworks without a license to do so, from January 2015 to January 2017. McKeehan admitted that their unlicensed trafficking included approximately 1,080 commercially packaged 1.3g, 3-inch aerial display shells, approximately 13,968 (M-Series) improvised explosive devices, approximately 3,200 (larger M-Series) improvised explosive devices and approximately 1,633 commercially packaged 1.3g, 3-inch aerial display shells.

Witt and McKeehan purchased bulk supplies of raw chemicals, including aluminum powder, potassium perchlorate and Sulphur, to create an explosive mixture. They packed the explosive powder in cardboard tubes obtained by McKeehan. They also purchased and sold commercial fireworks, including 1.3g fireworks, without a license to do so.

Following the Jan. 3, 2017, explosion at JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment, Witt and McKeehan traveled to McKeehan’s storage unit in Belton and removed the fireworks stored at that location. On Jan. 17, 2017, Witt and McKeehan moved a white van to a location in Lone Jack, Mo., and loaded the van with commercial fireworks and illegal explosive devices in order to transport the explosives to a person in Wisconsin with whom McKeehan had negotiated the sale. The explosives in the van included approximately 1,080 commercially packaged 1.3g, 3-inch aerial display shells, approximately 13,968 (M-Series) improvised explosive devices, approximately 3,200 (larger M-Series) improvised explosive devices and approximately 1,633 commercially packaged 1.3g, 3-inch aerial display shells.

Under federal statutes, McKeehan is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole. Witt is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations by the United States Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce E. Clark. It was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
 

Updated February 9, 2018