AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - One of five self-described anarchists accused of attempting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge near Cleveland in April pleaded guilty on Wednesday and agreed to testify against the other four men.
Anthony Hayne, 35, told U.S. District Judge David Dowd Jr. in Akron that he understood his plea meant he faces more than 15 years in prison and possible probation for life. No sentencing date was set.
Hayne, Brandon Baxter, Connor Stevens, Joshua Stafford and Douglas Wright are accused of conspiracy and attempting to use explosive materials. The FBI said they tried to plant two tool boxes they believed contained plastic explosives and detonators at the base of a bridge 30 miles south of Cleveland.
An undercover FBI agent had sold the inoperable detonators and explosives to the men, and authorities swooped in to arrest them when they determined the men were planning to go ahead with the attack.
According to FBI testimony, Hayne, who has an extensive criminal history and a ninth-grade education, acted as a lookout on April 30, the night the five men are accused of planting the two inert detonators and explosives at the base of a bridge.
The other four have entered not-guilty pleas and, according to court testimony, plan to argue they were entrapped by an FBI informant, who defense attorneys say coerced the men with money, alcohol and drugs.
The trial of the four is scheduled for September 17. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The defense attorneys on Wednesday requested the court require the prosecution to give them immediate access to all internal FBI documents related to the handling of the criminal informant in the case in order to “attack his credibility.” The judge ruled the government has until two weeks before the trial starts to produce the documents.
More than a dozen supporters of the “Cleveland Five” gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing carrying signs calling for the arrest of the man they believe to be the criminal informant in the case.
According to an FBI affidavit, the informant was paid more than $5,000 as part of an investigation that began in October, when he met the five suspects at an anti-Wall Street Occupy Cleveland rally.
The FBI said the men had no ties to foreign militant organizations.
The Ohio FBI undercover operation was one of a number of stings by federal authorities in the last couple of years aimed at preventing attacks by foreign and domestic militants.
In June, a Moroccan man pleaded guilty to attempting a February suicide bombing of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. An undercover agent drove the man on the day of the planned attack.
At the Chicago summit of the NATO military alliance in May, authorities used undercover officers to gather evidence and arrest three men described as anarchists and accused of attempting to make Molotov cocktails to hurl at police.
The FBI also has used undercover agents to thwart alleged plots including four Georgia men accused of wanting to make the deadly toxin ricin and attack government officials, and a foreign-born person who allegedly tried to detonate bombs at an Oregon holiday celebration in 2010.
Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune