Camp Minden explosives: Change-of-plea hearing scheduled

JANET McCONNAUGHEY
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A change-of-plea hearing has been set for a former official of a company that abandoned tons of potentially explosive artillery propellant in Louisiana.
Lionel Koons was traffic and inventory control manager for Explo Systems when it went bankrupt in 2013, leaving 7,800 tons (7,100 metric tons) of M6 propellant on land leased from the Louisiana National Guard.

He has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy, 24 counts of making false statements, and six counts of wire fraud. But on Friday, Judge Elizabeth Foote scheduled a change-of-plea hearing for Koons next Friday, online court records show.

Company co-owner David Alan Smith of Winchester, Kentucky, had faced similar charges but pleaded guilty in December to one count each of conspiracy and making false statements. His sentencing is scheduled for July 31, after the trial for co-owner David Fincher of Burns, Tennessee, and four co-defendants, all, like Koons, from Louisiana. Their trial is scheduled for June 4, according to the online docket.

Lead prosecutor Earl M. Campbell and defense attorney Ansel Martin “Marty” Stroud were out of their offices and did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment Friday.
Prosecutors have said they will show that William Terry Wright, who was vice president of operations at Explo and is among those scheduled for trial in June, committed “prior bad acts” like those he is currently accused of, ordering employees of a Kansas company to store explosives in unsafe conditions from 2000 into 2002.

That case involved Slurry Explosives Corp., located near Columbus, Kansas, which pleaded guilty in July 2006 to one count of storing explosives improperly. No individuals were charged in that case, which brought a plea agreement without going before a grand jury.

However, an investigation by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revealed that Wright and others ordered employees to store explosive materials in unsafe conditions and lied to government inspectors about the amount and conditions of explosives stored on the company’s premises, according to the federal filing.

His behavior in that case parallels his conduct in the current one, indicating a tendency to such actions, prosecutors said in court papers filed in February.

“We will dispute that” in court, Wright’s attorney, Donald E. Hathaway Jr. of Shreveport, said Friday.

In addition to the M6, Explo Systems left 160 tons (145 metric tons) of clean-burning igniter at Camp Minden.

Louisiana State Police had begun investigating the company in 2012, after an explosion in one of Explo’s leased bunkers and a nearby trailer shattered windows 4 miles (6 kilometers) away in Minden, created a 7,000-foot (2,130-meter) mushroom cloud and derailed 11 rail cars near the bunker.

The bunker had held about 62 tons (56 metric tons) of smokeless powder and the trailer had held about 12 tons (11 metric tons) of demilitarized M6, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Much of the remaining material was in bags out in the open, state police said.

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