Posted on July 29, 2004

Sniper’s Kit Found In Search On I-80

Lynn Safranek,

DES MOINES — Michael Wagner lied about his name.

He told the trooper who stopped him for not wearing a seat belt that he couldn’t find his identification.

Then, Iowa State Patrol Trooper Kenneth Haas found a gun, three bulletproof vests, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a flight simulator and a bag of flight manuals dating to 2001.

Haas testified at a federal court hearing Tuesday that he also found a 5-foot telescope hooked to camera equipment, night-vision goggles and a night-vision rifle scope when searching Wagner’s sport utility vehicle on July 14 on Interstate 80 near Council Bluffs.

The materials, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Rothrock, were “all of the equipment necessary for sniper attacks.”

Haas said a tape showed that when Wagner was alone with his wife in a cruiser after they were stopped, he spoke of killing the officers at the scene to get away.

Haas and an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives described Tuesday what was found in Wagner’s vehicle and their conversations with him.

Wagner, 44, of Santee, Calif., was indicted on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition and being a felon in possession of body armor. He pleaded not guilty to both charges Tuesday.

Wagner, a Navy veteran, has been in custody since his arrest in Pottawattamie County. At his detention hearing, U.S. District Judge Celeste Bremer decided he should remain in custody while he awaits trial because he is a flight risk and a danger to the community.

In 1988, Wagner was convicted of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14.

His attorney, Angela Campbell, said the items found in Wagner’s vehicle weren’t illegal for average citizens to own and suggested that Wagner and his wife, Linda Maguire, were targeted because they are Muslim.

Books written in Arabic, including the Koran, along with hundreds of pages printed from the Internet on the Iraq war and terrorism, were found in Wagner’s vehicle.

Wagner and his wife, who was at the court hearing, are both Muslim converts.

During the traffic stop, Wagner repeatedly gave a false name, couldn’t produce an identification card and showed signs of nervousness, Haas said, so the trooper searched the vehicle.

Haas first discovered a 9 mm pistol and a loaded magazine in the car’s back seat — the same area where the trooper let Wagner search for his identification.

At that point, Haas handcuffed Wagner and seated Wagner’s wife along with him in the cruiser. Their conversation was caught on tape.

“I told you I should have killed him,” Wagner said when his wife entered the trooper’s cruiser.

He mentioned getting his gun so he could “kill all three” officers looking through his vehicle, Haas testified. Then, Haas said, Wagner told his wife, “Find a handcuff key, get up here and run them over.”

Campbell said the couple was upset because of how long the search had lasted and how their possessions were being treated. Police dogs were allowed to step on Muslim writings and books, she said.

Meanwhile, Haas said he continued to find other items, including ashes from burnt marijuana, a canteen, pills, an outdoor stove and a sleeping bag. The night-vision goggles and rifle scope, he said, were found in a hollowed-out computer.

Campbell said the equipment was tucked away because it can be ruined by sunlight. She also suggested that the flight simulator was a video game.

Special Agent Paul White said Wagner was cooperative during several hours of questioning.

“He was very vocal and very talkative about his religion,” White said.

Later, Wagner asked to speak to a federal agent because he said he had information that authorities “would be greatly in need of,” White said.

He agreed to provide information only if he and his wife were released from custody. His wife eventually was released.

In the interview, he talked about a man in San Diego who he said wanted him to shoot at trolleys there, White said. Wagner also told the agent “he knew of activities and people involved in al-Qaida and Taliban.”

When Maguire spoke to authorities, according to court documents, she told officials she bought the gun about two years ago for safety reasons, and Campbell said the gun is registered in her name.