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Press Release

Owner of Grandview Business, Destroyed by Explosion, Indicted for Illegal Explosives

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tom Larson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that the owner of a Grandview, Mo., business destroyed in an explosion earlier this year is among two men who have been indicted by a federal grand jury for illegally manufacturing and dealing in explosives.

James Witt, 76, of Grandview, and Thomas McKeehan, 66, of Belton, Mo., were charged in a three-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2017. That indictment was unsealed and made public today upon McKeehan’s arrest and initial court appearance. McKeehan remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing; Witt will self-surrender to authorities.

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.

The federal indictment alleges that Witt and McKeehan used the business as a place to manufacture illegal explosive devices, including M-80 and M-100 explosives. They allegedly manufactured the explosive devices by buying bulk supplies of chemicals and then combining them to produce the illegal explosive devices at JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment.

They also allegedly purchased commercial fireworks without the license to do so. McKeehan purchased approximately 40 cases of commercial fireworks for $10,000 in November 2016, the indictment says. McKeehan met the seller at a truck stop on Interstate 80 in Iowa to obtain the fireworks.

According to the indictment, McKeehan maintained a storage unit in Belton that was used to store explosives. Later the same night after the Jan. 3, 2017, explosion, Witt and McKeehan allegedly traveled to that storage unit and removed the fireworks that were stored at that location. On Jan. 17, 2017, Witt and McKeehan loaded a van with commercial fireworks and illegal explosive devices from a commercial shipping container in Lone Jack, Mo., the indictment says. McKeehan allegedly contacted an individual in Wisconsin to sell the fireworks for approximately $32,000.

Witt and McKeehan are charged together in one count of conspiracy to engage in the business of manufacturing and dealing in explosives from January 2015 to Jan. 17, 2017. 

Witt and McKeehan are charged together in one count of engaging in the business of dealing in explosive materials from Jan. 3 to Jan. 17, 2017, including 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, without a license to do so.

McKeehan is also charged with one count of making a materially false statement. McKeehan allegedly told ATF agents that he had no knowledge of Witt’s involvement in manufacturing illegal explosive devices at Witt’s place of business.

Larson cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt.

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 September 22, 2017