Feds indict 2 county men in explosives case

One man accused of making pipe bombs, another of possessing them 

By Kathleen Brady SheaManaging Editor, The Times

Istvan Merchenthaler

Istvan Merchenthaler

A multi-agency, months-long investigation into a cache of explosives found in a storage locker in East Whiteland Township has apparently led to indictments against two Chester County men that were announced on Friday, Jan. 31, by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Istvan Merchenthaler, 43, of Downingtown, was indicted for at least the fourth time. He is charged with weapons offenses related to his possession of unregistered firearms, which included improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – 60 PVC pipes and 400 cardboard tubes, “all center-primed with flash powder – a 9mm Cobray M-11 semi-automatic machine pistol, and ammunition, the  Jan. 30 indictment said.

Ryan Joseph Hribick, 32, of West Caln Township, was charged by indictment Jan. 30 with one count of possession of unregistered firearms, one count of manufacturing and dealing explosive materials, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and one count of witness tampering, a federal news release said. Court documents do not specify a link between the two defendants.

According to his indictment, Hribick possessed, manufactured, and dealt cardboard tube  IEDs for several years. After federal agents searched his home, Hribick allegedly instructed and conspired with others to destroy and conceal the tubes and flash powder – which Hribick was using to manufacture IEDs – to keep that evidence from federal agents, the indictment said. In addition, the indictment alleges that Hribick attempted to influence the testimony of a federal grand jury witness regarding the destruction and concealment of evidence, the indictment said.

Merchenthaler, a resident at various times of Downingtown, Coatesville, and West Chester, was first charged in 2012 with theft and fraud offenses related to a Ponzi scam, court records said. He agreed to pretrial release conditions and then violated them, disappearing in a stolen vehicle in October 2012 until he was apprehended in February 2013 in Maryland, records said.

In March, investigators did not link the contents of the Malvern storage locker where they found “a significant amount of explosives” to Merchenthaler, acknowledging only that he rented the facility.

A superseding indictment filed against Merchenthaler about the same time included multiple counts of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft,  money laundering, filing false tax returns, and interstate transportation of stolen goods – the latter related to two vehicles he allegedly stole while on the lam, records said.

From at least May 2006 to February 2013, Merchenthaler claimed to be the founder of PhoneCard USA, purportedly a “premier distribution source” for prepaid phone cards and cell phones, the indictment said. Merchenthaler falsely claimed that PhoneCard USA had “lucrative contracts” with major retail chain stores, including Walmart, 7-Eleven, and BJ’s Wholesale Club, and that he enjoyed friendships with company executives, the indictment said, accusing Merchenthaler of stealing more than $2 million from at least 200 investors.

Court records show that Merchenthaler, whose aliases include Steve Merchenthaler, Atilla Mergenthaler, Adien A. Donis,  and Joey Gallow, was indicted for weapons offenses in September by a federal grand jury in the District of Maryland and in August by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of North Carolina, cases that will be consolidated and prosecuted in Philadelphia, the release said.

Court records for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court show that Merchenthaler played a role in the 2009 disbarment of Daniel L. McCaughan, a West Chester attorney he accused of defrauding him. McCaughan, who later received a two- to four-year prison sentence for misusing another client’s money, was hired in April 2004 by Merchenthaler’s family.

The family sought McCaughan’s representation because Merchenthaler had been arrested in San Paolo, Brazil, on drug-trafficking charges, records said. McCaughan bragged that he had “dealings with an influential Columbian law firm specializing in international drug-trafficking cases,” and Merchenthaler’s family paid him $150,000, which was supposed to be transmitted to the Colombian firm through a Canadian intermediary, records said.

Although McCaughan insisted he sent the money, he acknowledged he did not “adequately safeguard” it, court records said, adding that Merchenthaler was released in February 2005 after hiring a different law firm.

U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly has been assigned to both Hribick’s and Merchenthaler’s cases, which will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri, the release said. Investigators in both cases included 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 West Caln Police Department, the Malvern Fire Department, and the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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