Charges dropped against Alabama and Ohio men in sale of 1,340 grenade fuzes

By Kent Faulk

Federal prosecutors have dismissed charges against an Alabama man who allegedly sold 1,340 grenade fuzes and the Ohio man who bought them.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Felton did not explain in his motions to dismiss why the charges were being dropped against Joseph Matthew Smith, of Hayden, and James William Copley, of Akron Ohio.

"An issue developed with a witness which required us to dismiss the case," Peggy Sanford, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office explained Friday afternoon.

Smith, owner of Whisper Tech, an explosives dealer and training company, had pleaded guilty in June to one count of illegally distributing explosive material. His sentencing was to have been Tuesday. But the hearing was postponed. Felton on Wednesday requested the charge be dismissed. And U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala dismissed the charge Thursday.

Copley was set to enter a guilty plea on Sept. 28, but Felton asked that the charge be dismissed on Sept. 9, a request U.S. District Judge Virginia Hopkins approved the next day.

Smith had been charged with selling 1,340 M228 grenade fuzes to Copley in 2013. Smith was licensed to possess and handle explosives, but according to court documents Copley was not licensed to buy or own them.

According to the military's Project Manager Close Combat Systems website the M228 is a pyrotechnic delay igniting fuze used with practice grenades. The M228 emits a small puff of smoke when activated. The fuzes are illegal to own without a specialized license.

Practice grenades are not intended to project shrapnel but the M288 can be used with improvised grenades and explosive devices.

An ATF official declined comment regarding the dismissal of the charges.

Smith's attorney, Tommy Spina, responded but did not discuss specifics of the reasons prosecutors dropped the charge against Smith.

"Evidence was made known to the U.S. attorney's office on August 31st that directly affected the Governments' prosecution," Spina stated in an email to AL.com.

"To avoid what would have been a manifest injustice, the U.S. Attorneys' office, candidly and to its credit, felt that in the interest of Justice and to preserve the integrity of the Federal Criminal justice system, elected to agree to a withdrawal of the previously entered guilty plea and a dismissal of the case," Spina wrote. "The U.S. Attorneys' should be commended for the actions that it took to see that Justice was served."

Efforts to reach Copley's attorney were unsuccessful prior to publication of this story.

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