Southwest Florida firefighter arrested on weapons charges



The Associated Press


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NAPLES, Fla. - A lieutenant with the Ochopee fire department was arrested after police seized illegal bomb-making equipment and a grenade launcher from his home, officials said.

Thomas Mitchell, 54, of Everglades City, was charged Thursday with two counts of possession of a destructive device and one count of possession of an explosive device without a license, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Mitchell was taken to the Naples Jail Center to await a bond hearing Friday.

According to the Collier County Sheriff's Office, authorities received a tip from two confidential informants who said Mitchell had illegal explosives in his home.

Deputies and members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's regional domestic security task force found 80 Electric "Hercules" copper blasting caps, 5 pounds of black powder and a 40 mm M-203 grenade launcher during a search of his home, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Tina Osceola said.

The blasting caps and powder are considered bomb-making materials. Possession of those items as well as of the grenade launcher is illegal in Florida, Osceola said.

The blasting caps were destroyed by the Southwest Florida Regional Bomb Squad, and the grenade launcher was confiscated by the Sheriff's Office.

Osceola said it wasn't clear why Mitchell had such weaponry.

Officials with the Ochopee fire department referred questions to Chief Paul Wilson, who was unavailable for comment.

Ochopee is about 35 miles southeast of Naples.