Four men and a woman were arrested this week in connection with a series of pipe bombings in Fresno that damaged six vehicles, including a Fresno County probation officer’s vehicle, and a mailbox, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Two of the suspects, Scott Anderson, 44, and Frank Rocha, 56, were apprehended Monday afternoon in Riverside County, where investigators had to evacuate a neighborhood in Temecula out of concern that the vehicle Anderson and Rocha were in might have explosives.
Anderson is facing federal and state charges, including two federal charges of malicious destruction by means of explosive devices and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Anderson, who is being held in the Fresno County Jail on no bail, also has been charged with a series of state charges: seven counts of detonating an explosive device damaging property, possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, possession of a short-barreled rifle, manufacture of a firearm with no valid serial number, and possession of brass knuckles.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said that if found guilty, Anderson could be sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.
Rocha was still in Riverside County on Wednesday and had not been extradited yet to face charges. He was picked up on a felony warrant of grand theft and being in possession of bomb-making materials.
Motive Still Under Investigation
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said the investigation involved multiple local, state, and federal agencies. It’s unclear whether the seven bombings are connected or were crimes of opportunity, he told reporters Wednesday afternoon, but it was clear that the perpetrators were becoming bolder with each successive bombing.
A search at several locations yielded bomb-making materials, illegal weapons, ammunition, packaged methamphetamine, and White Power paraphernalia. But Balderrama said it’s not yet known whether any of the bombings were racially motivated or could constitute hate crimes.
The first vehicle bombing was at 10:25 p.m. Dec. 13 at 5647 E. Clinton Ave., followed by a vehicle bombing at 2:28 a.m. Jan. 6 at an apartment complex at 3560 W. San Jose Ave. The same vehicle was bombed at 2:53 a.m. two days later at the apartment complex.
The fourth bombing was a mailbox at 2763 N. Argyle Ave. at 1:59 a.m. Jan. 27, and followed by a vehicle bombing 12 minutes later at 5647 E. Clinton Ave. The two Clinton Avenue bombings were at auto-related businesses.
The sixth and seventh bombings were of two more vehicles, one in a parking lot at 377 W. Fallbrook Ave. at 2:11 a.m. Feb. 19 and a Probation Office vehicle at 2048 N. Fine Ave., at 3:03 a.m. Feb. 21. The Fallbrook bombing also damaged a nearby building.
Police showed a video of the Probation Office vehicle bombing, in which the suspect vehicle can be seen across the parking lot idling for several minutes after the explosion set the probation vehicle ablaze.
The other arrested suspects are Paul New, 55, who was charged with possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, possession of an explosive device, and altering a firearm; Steven Burkett, 51, possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon; and Amanda Sanders, 41, possession of methamphetamine for sale.
Smittcamp said that if found guilty, Burkett could be sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison, New to 10 years in prison, and Sanders to three years in jail. Burkett’s bond was set at $715,000, New’s at $280,000, and Sanders’ at $25,000. Sanders made bail Wednesday and is scheduled to appear in court on May 1, she said.
Google Accounts Accessed
According to the federal criminal complaint, Anderson was identified early on as a suspect in the first bombings based on surveillance of his Google accounts. The federal complaint details that investigators reviewed photos and videos that were shot during several of the bombings, including one video in which a male voice could be heard saying “here we go” before an explosion occurred under a dark sedan on East Clinton Avenue.
Fresno police conducted a search of Anderson’s home at 1352 W. Dyer Ave. on Feb. 24 and discovered explosives materials, firearms, and ammunition. Sanders and Rocha also lived at the residence, according to the complaint.
Fresno police also conducted searches of residences in the 5900 block of East Alta Avenue and the 3500 block of West San Jose Avenue, Balderrama said. At the three locations investigators uncovered 11 firearms, several hundred rounds of ammunition, about 90 grams of methamphetamine packaged for sale, and $50,000 in cash, he said.
Fresno police had been set to arrest Anderson but learned he had left the area on Feb. 23 and had crossed the I-5 Grapevine just before the arrival of severe weather, Balderrama said.
Investigators learned Anderson was staying at a Temecula casino; Riverside County sheriff’s deputies took Anderson and Rocha into custody after a traffic stop, the chief said.
Kirk Haynes, Fresno County’s probation chief, said the probation department parking lot on North Fine Avenue is not as secure as police department parking lots that are fenced and gated.
“It is not gated, but we are planning to gate that parking lot,” he said.
Balderrama said the investigation into the pipe bombings is continuing.