Dangerous bomb maker nabbed in sting

January 23, 2008 7:06:13 PM PST
A South Bay sting operation set up to catch a growing number of copper thieves ended up nabbing a wide variety of criminals, including what police call a sophisticated and dangerous bomb maker.

Jose Clara Co Op was a phony business designed to nab copper thieves. It was a front for a joint sting operation by San Jose and Santa Clara police. As police found out, criminals quickly did more than push stolen copper.

"By the end of March, we were open for business. In June, we bought our first gun," says Chris Mackie, Santa Clara Police Dept.

In August, undercover cops got an unexpected offer: IED'd or improvised explosive devices for sale.

"As you can see, these are evil people. They are not people just coming to steal copper. They are people who are offering these devices for sale," says Chief Rob Davis, San Jose Police Dept.

Police say 45-year-old Steven Gilbuena of Fremont made the offer. A hidden camera captured his demonstration of what he was selling -- an explosive that could be set off using a cell phone.

Prosecutors say it is the first case in the country where someone is charged with making a cell phone detonated devise similar to IEDs used by terrorists in Iraq.

"The fact is you have a bomb that's capable of blowing up a car. That bomb could take down anything it's attached to. It could be a school, it could be a mall, it could be anywhere," says Ray Mendoza, Deputy District Attorney.

Undercover agents bought a total of seven bombs. Their year long undercover operation also netted 14 tons of stolen copper, 40 stolen vehicles, and 74 firearms including eleven AK47 assault rifles.

More than 140 people were arrested during 'Operation Meltdown' and 70 arrest warrants are still being served. Police say the one person they weren't taking any chances with was Steven Gilbuena.

You may remember a school lockdown and neighborhood evacuation in Fremont in October. That is when a "lucky" traffic stop caught Gilbuena with explosives in his truck without giving away the undercover operation. Gilbuena faces at least 18 years in state prison. Jose Clara Co-Op is now closed and deemed a success.


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