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June 17, 2014

Russian-born student set to enter bomb-making plea

— A Russian-born college student has agreed to plead guilty to a charge that he built bombs without a license.

The deal between federal prosecutors in Johnstown and 18-year-old Vladislav Miftakhov came after months of negotiations with his federal public defender, who did not immediately return messages for comment Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson scheduled an Aug. 19 hearing in Johnstown at which Miftakhov will waive indictment and plead guilty. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Miftakhov was a Penn State-Altoona student from San Carlos, California, when he was arrested Jan. 24.

He has been jailed since police – acting on a landlord’s tip that he was growing marijuana – found bomb-making materials, including an unexploded device containing about a half-pound of volatile chemicals, in his off-campus apartment.

Federal authorities took over the investigation and filed a criminal complaint Feb. 6, which gave them 30 days to obtain a grand jury indictment. Prosecutors and public defender Christopher Brown filed four joint motions to extend the deadline while they negotiated the filing of appropriate charges.

Online court records show prosecutors last week filed a criminal information containing the charge, after which Gibson scheduled the hearing.

Brown has argued that Miftakhov meant to detonate the bombs to make noise, not mayhem. He got a federal magistrate in February to order Miftakhov released from jail pending trial, arguing that prosecutors were invoking the Boston Marathon bombing, which was carried out a few months before, allegedly by a Russian-born college student and his brother.

But before Miftakhov could be released, Gibson reversed the lower judge’s order, citing concerns for public safety and Miftakhov’s lack of ties to this area.

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