Northern Michigan man pleads guilty to leaving pipe bombs at stores

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A 76-year-old northern Michigan man pleaded guilty Monday to leaving two pipe bombs outside cellphone stores in Cheboygan and Sault Ste. Marie in 2021, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

John Douglas Allen of Whittemore entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington in Bay City. He faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced Nov. 9, records show.

Prosecutors filed a criminal information against him this month, 10 months after he was arrested following an FBI investigation involving homemade bombs, coded letters, spy cameras and counter-surveillance tactics.

Allen said that on Sept. 15, 2021, he placed pipe bombs containing shrapnel outside an AT&T store in Sault Ste. Marie as well as a Verizon store in Cheboygan, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Both pipe bombs contained a note demanding $5 million. Video footage taken from the stores and nearby businesses led authorities to identify Allen as the suspect, according to the release.

A surveillance camera inside a Verizon store in Cheboygan showed the suspect leaving a box outside the front door on Sept. 15.

“The actions of this defendant could have resulted in significant bodily harm or death to citizens in the area,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners and prosecutors, we were able to find and remove these dangerous devices before the defendant could cause serious harm.”

Allen also pleaded guilty to placing letters containing threats aimed at telecommunications providers at cell towers in the Upper Peninsula.

His attorney, Stevens Jacobs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.

Federal court records allege Allen was angry that telecommunications companies broadcast pornography, cursing and "immoral content."

The bombs were stored inside boxes and contained handcuffs with either the nickname “Handcuff Johnny” or the initials “HJ.” FBI investigators analyzed the bombs, which consisted of a metal pipe with two metal end caps containing explosive powder main charges. Metal spheres and nails were found within each device.

"Allen’s actions in placing pipe bombs in front of commercial businesses in Sault Ste. Marie and Cheboygan endangered the lives of innocent citizens, first responders, and the bomb technicians, who rendered those devices safe," said Mark Totten, Western District of Michigan U.S. Attorney, on Monday. "Grievances and disputes cannot be communicated or resolved through threats of violence or extortion."

Allen's LinkedIn account lists him as a retired underground miner for TG Chemicals. Investigators took note of the company name because the initials TG were at the end of the coded message “CMT 5101520TG” included in threatening letters left across the U.P.

Allen told authorities he bought the bomb components at hardware stores approximately one year earlier and paid in cash to avoid law enforcement detection, according to a court filing.

“For the past year, the bombs were in a box at his property,” an agent wrote. “He waited a year to build up the courage to place them.”

Allen also reported using the nickname “Handcuff Johnny” because he believed he “would end up in handcuffs as a result of his actions.”