“MARQUETTE, Mich.—In mid June, under a deal with federal prosecutors, Kenneth Kassab was on the verge of pleading guilty to illegally transporting thousands of pounds of explosives when he changed his mind. A week later, he was acquitted by a federal jury.
Though Mr. Kassab maintained his innocence, he said in an interview that he had been prepared to plead guilty to avoid the risk of possibly decades in prison. *** On April 19, the 17th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, armed federal agents arrested Mr. Kassab. Prosecutors charged him with transporting explosives illegally and as a felon in possession of explosives. The latter charge was based on run-ins with the law Mr. Kassab had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. ***
In a recent interview, Karl Numinen, Mr. Kassab’s court-appointed lawyer, said he viewed the case as a tough one. Court records show that by 1989 Mr. Kassab had picked up his third DUI conviction, making him a felon under Michigan law. The following year, he walked away from a community corrections facility, adding an escape charge to his rap sheet. In 1991, again inebriated, he broke a police-car window with a rock, another felony. *** Mr. Numinen told his client his chances at trial were bleak, both men recall, especially since he would be tried with Mr. Lechner, who was being charged with explosives-related activities, including transporting ANFO without a permit. That raised the specter of guilt by association. ***
At the trial, Mr. Kassab took the stand and told the jury he thought he was just moving fertilizer for his boss. None of the government’s witnesses presented evidence of darker intent, though some federal agents said Mr. Kassab should have known he was handling an explosive. After two hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Mr. Lechner on six of eight counts, including illegal transportation and storage of explosive materials. Mr. Kassab was acquitted on both charges he faced.”