Company Co-owner Pleads Guilty In Industrial Site Explosion

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the owners of a company that abandoned thousands of tons of potentially explosive artillery propellant in Louisiana has admitted lying in order to be awarded federal contracts to "demilitarize" the smokeless powder, known as M6.

Explo Systems co-owner David Alan Smith, 62, of Winchester, Kentucky, filed a plea bargain Thursday in federal court pleading guilty to one count each of conspiracy and making false statements. Smith also admitted lying about selling demilitarized powder to another company. As part of the conspiracy plea, he admitted preventing authorities from properly monitoring Explo's operations at Camp Minden, a 15,000-acre (6,100-hectare) industrial site owned by the Louisiana National Guard in north Louisiana.

The maximum penalty for each count would be five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Under the plea agreement, he could also be required to compensate the federal government for $35.4 million, including $8.7 million in contract losses plus cleanup costs after an October 2012 explosion at Camp Minden, Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook said in an emailed statement.

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The judge could order other defendants to pay all or part of the restitution.

Federal prosecutors agreed to drop most charges against Smith: 21 counts of making false statements and six of wire fraud.

The magistrate before whom he appeared last week filed papers Monday recommending that U.S. District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote approve the agreement.

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A second owner of the company and four company executives are scheduled for trial April 26 on similar federal charges. They are: co-owner David Perry Fincher, 70, of Burns, Tennessee; William Terry Wright, 64, of Bossier City, the operations manager at Camp Minden; Kenneth Lampkin, 65, and Lionel Koons, 58, both of Haughton; and Charles Callihan, 68, of Shreveport.

Callihan faces only one count each of conspiracy and false statements; the others were indicted on at least as many charges as Smith.

Fincher, Smith, and Wright also face state charges. Fincher and Smith have pleaded not guilty to 10 state counts of unlawful storage and reckless use of explosives. Prosecutors have been waiting until federal charges are resolved to deal with those.

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Explo Systems left 7,800 tons (7,100 metric tons) of M6 and 160 tons (145 metric tons) of clean-burning igniter at Camp Minden when the company went bankrupt in 2013.

Louisiana State Police had begun investigating the company in 2012, after the explosion in one of Explo's leased bunkers and a nearby trailer shattered windows 4 miles (6 kilometers) away in Minden and 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.

-By Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press 

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