A man broke into his elderly parents' home in New York while they wintered in Florida and built up a cache of enough explosive materials to potentially level an entire block, as well as an arsenal of weapons, pipe bombs, grenades and marijuana plants, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Marc Ringel, 53, of Woodmere, on Long Island, said nothing as his attorney entered not guilty pleas to firearms, weapons possession and reckless endangerment charges in Nassau County District Court. He was ordered held without bail until his next court appearance on Monday.
The attorney, Saul Bienenfeld, told reporters after the arraignment that his client wasn't part of any organized terrorist group.
"This is a hobby that got out of control," Bienenfeld said of the weapons accusations. "If you look on the Internet, you can easily find out how to make bombs. If you want to take that up as a hobby, everything can be sold legally. It's when you put it together that you have a problem. Not everything was put together."
The attorney also said most of the more than 100 handguns and rifles Ringel is accused of possessing are antiques that he obtained online with the intention of re-selling them. Nassau County police have said Ringel doesn't possess a handgun license.
Bienenfeld declined to address accusations that hundreds of marijuana plants were also found in the Woodmere home owned by Ringel's parents, Abraham and Ruth Ringel. The couple, who spend the winter at a home in Florida, returned to New York on Wednesday; they sat in the first row of the courtroom to watch their son's arraignment but declined to speak with reporters.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Geier told the judge that Ringel broke into the home without permission. Bienenfeld disputed that claim but didn't elaborate. He also indicated that he may challenge whether police followed proper search procedures when his client was arrested.
"There's a big issue with how this search was conducted," the lawyer said. "There's a big issue with whether the search warrant is valid or not."
Ringel wasn't initially charged with having the marijuana plants, though a grand jury is expected to review the case and consider additional charges, according to the district attorney's office.
Ringel was arrested Tuesday after police said they responded to a silent alarm at the home, located on a dead-end street in a community just outside New York City. Police said they found Ringel working on a van in his driveway. He had no identification, so officers followed him toward the front door where he presumably was going to retrieve his ID.
When he opened the door, police said, the officers were overcome by the pungent smell of the marijuana plants. They also reported seeing a weapon on the floor and then took Ringel into custody.
Officers ordered an evacuation of about 20 homes in the neighborhood for several hours and obtained a search warrant, which they used to find the cache of weapons, Nassau County police Chief Steven Skrynecki said. Police also found a pit dug in the backyard of the home, which the chief theorized could have been used for experimenting with the explosives.
Police said they recovered 50 pounds of ingredients for making explosives, including ammonium nitrate, fuel oil, peroxide, sodium nitrate and citric acid. Also found were approximately 100 handguns, long rifles, pipe bombs and hand grenades in various locations around the home, authorities said.
"We view him as a tremendous threat to society," Skrynecki said.
Bienenfeld said his client assisted the FBI and other law enforcement officials after he was arrested.
"When the FBI told him that they're going to go in and dismantle some of this equipment, we then cooperated with the FBI right then and there and said nothing there you have to be worried about," Bienenfeld said. "Do not pull any pins. Do not do anything stupid and everything will be fine."
Ringel was believed to be unemployed, and police said he had lived out west for a while. He was divorced and had moved back to Long Island about three years ago. Bienenfeld said Ringel was embroiled in a custody dispute involving his two daughters who live out of state, but he didn't disclose any details.
Court records indicate that Ringel was arrested in Provo, Utah, in 2005 on a charge of violating an order of protection. He also has a 2002 disorderly conduct conviction in Verde Valley, Ariz.
Associated Press researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this report.