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Car Thief's Locker Yields Guns, Bombs

ATF joins investigation of a Canoga Park man -- now in state prison -- after items and suspicious notes are found in Lancaster.

June 05, 2003|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

An auto theft investigation has grown into a probe involving an arsenal of guns and pipe bombs and a Canoga Park man who apparently planned to blow up buildings, authorities said Wednesday.

The weapons were seized from John Noster, 37, who was sentenced to state prison for car theft in February.

In searches of Noster's truck and two commercial storage units after his arrest in November, investigators found five assault weapons, explosives materials, six barrels of jet fuel, $188,000 in cash, false identification papers, ultra-conservative anti-government literature and what appeared to be written plans for attacks on unspecified targets, according to local and federal officials.

Agents also recovered 20 false credit cards, a California driver's license in the name of Kaman Rafizadah and an Arkansas license in the name of John Valladao, according to court records.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Noster has been charged with the federal crime of possession of an unregistered destructive device.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives is investigating, said Bernard J. Zapor, assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles field division.

At a news conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said his officers stopped a case of "potential terrorism."

But Zapor declined to call Noster anything other than an individual involved in the illegal possession of explosives.

Zapor said there is no evidence that Noster had any international contacts. He said he did not know whether Noster acted alone.

Noster has refused to talk to investigators. His attorney did not return telephone calls.

Sheriff's Capt. Mike O'Brien said authorities at first focused on Noster for stealing four vehicles, for which he was sentenced in February to 16 months in prison.

A search of two rented storage lockers in Lancaster and a truck stolen by Noster turned up two pipe bombs, smokeless powder, electric matches and thousands of rounds of ammunition, in addition to the drums of jet fuel, the assault weapons and the cash, according to officials and an affidavit by an ATF agent.

Investigators also found handwritten notes with instructions on how to destroy unspecified buildings.

One note read: "If want to destroy a structure there are two options. To drop from a gyro [a small one-seat helicopter]. This would limit the size of the instrument. Not even 20 pounds. But would cause the most action for its weight."

A second option detailed in the note was to "place the instrument close to the object in question" and try to "get close to the object without detection."

Another note addressed to "John" and signed "Lance," read, in part: "Hope you get a chance to come & visit. We need some excitement around here, you know, like bomb threats or something."

Authorities said Noster is a Texas native who grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

He was fired in November 2001 from a job as an accounts clerk at Van Nuys-based Easton Sports.

Investigators were trying to determine whether he may have embezzled money from that company, O'Brien said.

In prison, Noster has bragged to a cellmate that there is a 30-foot trailer out there somewhere containing a lot more explosive materials, according to O'Brien.

"We'd like to get our hands on it," O'Brien said.

"I think this is a case of where there was potential for a great deal of destruction," he said.

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