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Police Say 66 Pipe Bombs Found at Teen's Home

VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

May 17, 1999|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT

Three weeks after an 18-year-old Hueneme High School senior was busted for allegedly making sophisticated pipe bombs in his bedroom, police have finally said how many of the destructive devices they found at the student's Oxnard home.

Authorities now say they found up to 10 boxes filled with pipe bombs, not just 10 pipe bombs, as was repeatedly reported by Oxnard police. The cops said they also found diagrams of the devices.

The boxes were stacked in Jose Carlos Herrera's bedroom and contained a total of 66 pipe bombs, 40 of which were capable of exploding, said Sgt. Lee Wilcox.

The discovery forced the evacuation of more than 200 people from three dozen homes in Herrera's neighborhood and kept the sheriff's bomb squad busy for the better part of a day as deputies using a robot carefully loaded the devices into a steel-bomb buggy.

It took a week to X-ray the boxes, most of which had not been opened at the scene, and then to defuse the bombs, Wilcox said. He said he didn't know the exact number of bombs until several days after the boxes were found.

"We didn't put that out [at the time] because we don't want to scare everybody in town," Wilcox said. "This is very serious that somebody had this in a residential neighborhood."

Bomb experts are expected to testify next week at Herrera's preliminary hearing about how much damage the cache could have caused.

Wilcox said 40 pipe bombs could have destroyed Herrera's home and adjacent properties and caused damage to dozens of additional houses throughout the south Oxnard neighborhood.

Herrera has pleaded not guilty to five counts of making and possessing bombs. He remained in jail Sunday in lieu of $500,000 bail.

He has maintained that he built the devices as a hobby. His parents, who knew about his activity, have told neighbors their son was practicing for a career as a Navy bomb expert.

*

A bank teller with a memory for expensive watches has foiled a check forger whom authorities said was linked to two major fraud rings in Los Angeles.

Benjamin Blanford, 29, of Hollywood went into a Washington Mutual branch in Westlake Village recently and tried to cash a forged check for $2,400 using phony identification, authorities said.

A teller there noticed that the name on the check was not the same name Blanford had used the last time he cashed a check at the bank. The teller recognized Blanford from his shiny Gucci or Rolex watch, detectives said.

When the teller stalled, Blanford got nervous and split. Meanwhile, the teller put out an alert to the bank's other branches.

Blanford was arrested the same day in Camarillo after he allegedly tried cashing a forged check at another Washington Mutual branch.

He initially ran from deputies but was caught when he tripped and fell, tearing his $200 Armani slacks, according to Sheriff's Det. Steve Rhodes.

"When he got to Camarillo, our tellers were hip to him," Rhodes said.

Blanford's M.O. was that he would get information on fat accounts from a source inside Washington Mutual and then apply for duplicate driver's licenses in the customers' names and order checks with their names and account numbers, according to police. He allegedly bilked people of more than $100,000.

Cops say Blanford has admitted doing this for about two years as part of two separate check fraud operations in Los Angeles.

"I think he finally just decided, 'I'm caught, you guys know,' " Rhodes said.

Blanford, who has a prior record for fraud and was on probation when he was caught, remained in jail Sunday night without bail. He was being held on suspicion of several crimes, including counterfeiting and forgery.

At the time of his arrest, he was also wanted in connection with similar crimes in three other counties. Warrants naming Blanford were discovered by jail deputies after his arrest.

*

A 42-year-old Thousand Oaks resident, whose professional background includes creating multimedia presentations for big companies and freelance writing and illustrating, has been hired as the first civilian spokesman of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Eric Nishimoto was selected from a field of 110 applicants for the job of public information officer, Capt. Keith Parks said.

His job will be to assist Parks in doing research for the department, but he will also disseminate information from big crime scenes.

Pretty exciting stuff for a guy who 10 years ago wanted to be a county sheriff's deputy but was turned down because of his less than perfect eyesight.

"That's why I jumped at it when I found that this job was open, because I finally get my chance," he said.

Nishimoto said it's OK if he doesn't get a badge or a gun, because he wanted to be in police work to be around people. In his free time, he does community service, such as working at homeless shelters and helping build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

"What was so appealing about the job was to be a public servant," he added.

Holly J. Wolcott's e-mail address is holly.wolcott@latimes.com.

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