A Mississippi man has been arrested by federal agents and charged in connection with several vandalized, destroyed and burned cell towers on the coast.
According to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Southern District Resident Agent in Charge Jason Denham, Manuel DeJesus was arrested Tuesday just before 10 a.m. on a complaint alleging that he had used incendiary devices and other tools to disable a cell phone tower.
Court documents state that DeJesus is charged with Title 18, United States Code 844(i): Maliciously damaging or destroying, or attempting to damage and destroy, by means of fire or explosive, any building or vehicle or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce.
ATF Special Agent Shane Lynes writes in the complaint that on March 2, the Moss Point Fire Department got a call that a transformer was possibly on fire behind the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and the Comfort Inn. Firefighters found it wasn’t a transformer that was burning, but a generator inside a locked cell tower fence. They were able to knock down the fire and further investigation showed that someone had thrown power meters over the fence, as well as intentionally cutting numerous wires.
At the scene they also found what Denham referred to as an improvised incendiary device: bottles with rags in them, both burned and unburned, in various areas around the scene. Police were brought in, and they enlisted the help of the ATF.
Lynes says in the court documents that he helped Pascagoula Police Department search DeJesus’ 2007 Dodge Ram 1500, and inside were found cable and wire cutters, a cryptic sign that says “JW Spy Antenna” in block letters with the name “American Tower” written on it among other things, and a GPS device. American Tower owns the tower in question in the complaint.
A search warrant on the GPS device showed a destination near the Cracker Barrel on March 2 at 8:40 a.m., just before the fire. Corresponding surveillance video shows a vehicle believed to belong to DeJesus pulling into the Comfort Inn parking lot at 8:40 a.m., and the same camera shows smoke in the distance at 9:27 a.m.
An ATF investigator determined the fire at that tower was intentionally set. Another investigator was able to find DeJesus’ fingerprints on part of the generator at that scene.
Because out-of-state parts are used on the tower, Lynes wrote, it is considered an instrument of interstate commerce.
“We have some information and we’ve recovered some evidence at numerous other scenes” that could tie DeJesus to several similar attacks on cell towers, Denham said.
The next step for DeJesus, he said, is a federal grand jury.
Pascagoula Police Department also has a case on DeJesus, but Sgt. Michael Dunn said they can’t comment on the open investigation.
A cursory internet search shows that this may be one of the first times if not the first that U.S. Code 844(i) has been used in relation to phone towers.