A Bangor-area man who once kidnapped his children to Malta during a custody dispute is now accused of plotting to provide bombs to al-Qaida an action that might have been motivated by a desire to regain his children and kill his ex-wife.
Ronald Allen Grecula, 68, was arrested Friday in Houston, where he had flown to meet with an undercover agent posing as a go-between for the terrorist group.
According to a federal criminal complaint, Grecula had been plotting from a borrowed office in Upper Mount Bethel Township.
It is unclear whether he had the means or ability to create the kind of device he describes in his conversations with investigators, but authorities who searched his office said they discovered lithium nitrate a chemical used in fireworks and flares and a mercury switch that could be used to trigger a bomb.
According to an arrest affidavit, Grecula told undercover investigators he was willing to fly anywhere in the world to build and demonstrate a prototype bomb. He said the device could be assembled from components easily obtainable from welding supply shops.
He also wanted to be put in touch with a contract killer he could pay to kill his ex-wife and make it look like an accident, the affidavit says. Monique Grecula, who now lives near Houston, could not be reached for comment.
Ronald Grecula has been charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000.
Grecula's arrest astonished his acquaintances, including Toni Lynch, the Upper Mount Bethel businessman who let him use the office on Johnsonville Road.
''I told [an FBI agent] this case was all going to collapse as bull----,'' said Lynch, who has known Grecula casually for several years. ''There's absolutely nothing I ever heard from this guy that is bad, off-key, off-color.''
The U.S. attorney's office in Houston said authorities learned of Grecula's alleged desire to sell bombs to terrorists after being contacted April 27 by a confidential informant, a person Grecula had befriended in a Maltese prison, where he spent time in the kidnapping case.
Grecula returned to the United States in March 2003 but stayed in touch with his prison friend, whose identity and sex are concealed in the arrest affidavit.
''According to the [confidential informant], Grecula had asked him/her to find someone for whom he could build a large bomb and be paid for it,'' the arrest affidavit says. ''Grecula specifically referenced al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, but confided he would be willing to build bombs for other groups who could pay him.''
Beginning on May 11, the informant had several FBI-monitored phone calls in which Grecula discussed the specifics of bomb-making. The informant then put Grecula in contact with the undercover agent, the affidavit says.
In transcripts of conversations with the informant and the agent, Grecula describes himself as a researcher with training in engineering and experience with new energy technologies capable of producing enormously powerful blasts.
He refers to the damage wrought by the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995: ''There half the building was blown away. With this type of technology, the whole building is gone.''
Elsewhere, Grecula condemns America, saying it is suffering under ''the most wicked and worst'' government in its history.
''Well, of course I don't like how y'all are killing Americans, but America has asked for it,'' Grecula is recorded as telling the undercover agent.
Grecula also blames the judicial system for taking away his children and says his main interest in dealing with terrorists is getting his children back. ''And if you are willing to help me get my children back, I am willing to help you with other things which might be beneficial for your situation.''
The affidavit gives the following exchange between Grecula and the undercover agent:
Grecula: ''The bottom line is this: That my country has taken everything away from me. So, and they have beat me, they have tortured me, they have taken my children away.''
Agent: ''You were tortured?''
Grecula: ''Well, mentally.''
He compared himself to the Roman slave Spartacus. ''He was tortured in prison, he was beat up, took his family, killed his friends, etc.,'' Grecula allegedly said. ''So, you could say in a way I am like a Spartacus. I have no loyalty to America.''
Lynch, the Upper Mount Bethel businessman, said he met Grecula about five years ago through a mutual friend who works in the energy industry. At that time, Grecula was living in Saylorsburg.
''He was in a divorce situation and planning on leaving the country,'' Lynch said. ''I told him: Don't do it. But he took off with his kids.''
In a widely publicized case, Grecula's children were recovered in Malta in 2002 when someone recognized them from a ''Have You Seen Me?'' flier and tipped authorities.
Grecula was jailed in Malta as he awaited action on charges he overstayed his visa. He ultimately was deported and returned to Pennsylvania, where he served a brief jail sentence in 2003 for wiretapping his ex-wife and her boyfriend three years earlier.
Lynch said Grecula approached him about a month and a half ago, saying he was desperately trying to get back on his feet.
Lynch had gone through a similar crisis. He let Grecula use a small room at his office, Polysteel Better World Building Technology, which produces insulated concrete forms for new buildings.
Grecula was trying to establish himself as a subcontractor for a moving company, but was also making contact with companies in the energy industry. Lynch, who examined e-mails Grecula received at the office, said it appeared Grecula was trying to establish himself as a consultant.
''He had contacts all over in the industry of renewable and alternate energy technologies,'' Lynch said. ''I don't know how he met those people, but he was trying to coordinate a deal where he would meet with those people overseas.
''I don't know what all he had on the table, but I think he was tragically overselling his capacity and knowledge.''
On Friday, six FBI agents visited Polysteel, which is on the first floor of a three-unit apartment complex.
Lynch said he assured them Grucela could not have possessed, let alone delivered, bomb-making material.
''Basically I told them that, and I told them I'd bet them a dinner that they would find out that there is no substance to the guy's capability in that arena whatsoever,'' Lynch said. ''I told them it was laughable.''
The agents, with bomb-sniffing dogs, searched Lynch's small office. They carted off ''six boxes of miscellaneous papers, a tool box with a mercury switch and tools, a black leather satchel with miscellaneous electrical equipment, a cardboard box with a laser detector and one glass jar labeled lithium nitrate,'' according to an inventory sheet agents left on the oak desk in Grecula's office, to which Lynch gave reporters access.
Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle said Ron Grecula was known as ''The Professor'' because he was so smart.
Angle said Grecula was in his Upper Mount Bethel home last week talking about developing technology to convert coal waste into energy.
''His eyeglasses are sitting on my kitchen counter,'' Angle said as he stopped to get a truck tire at Shook's Sunoco, next door to Lynch's business. ''I just met him recently. He was nice guy.''