San Francisco politico hit with explosives possession charges; Judge chides loose-lipped feds: "You can't have it both ways."
On the morning after his three-day cat-and-mouse game with federal authorities abruptly concluded, San Francisco political operative turned accused explosives accumulator Ryan Chamberlain today made his first of potentially many court appearances.
He was outfitted in a navy blue sweatshirt and what appeared to be black exercise pants; he looked, for all the world, like a man who absconded from a jog along Crissy Field. His friends and family -- tattoos, sun dresses, trucker hats -- stood out in a courtroom packed with dark-suited, serious federal justice types.
Yet when Judge Nathanael Cousins addressed the crowd, it was the dark-suited, serious federal justice types that drew his ire. At an 8:30 a.m. press conference this morning, the feds said little on the record that media attendees deemed worth reporting. Off the record, however, federal officials told the media that Chamberlain had what appeared to be an unassembled improvised explosive device in his Russian Hill apartment when agents raided the place over the weekend. Authorities were led to the San Francisco moderate political operative and former elected member of the San Francisco Republican County Central Committee by a "human tip."
Yet while this was being slipped to the media on the down-low, federal prosecutor Philip Kearney argued against unsealing the charging documents lest an "ongoing investigation" be compromised.
And this rankled the judge.
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"I am very concerned that law enforcement agents commented on things you're seeking to shield at a public press conference this morning," Cousins said. "You can't have it both ways."
Chamberlain is being charged with a single violation of 26 U.S. Code § 5861(c): "to receive or possess a firearm transferred to him in violation of the provisions of this chapter..." This charge was described to court onlookers as "possession of an illegal destructive device." It carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
(The defendant's well-wishers, meanwhile, have started up a "Ryan Chamberlain Legal Defense Fund.")
Cousins granted the government's motion to unseal some -- but not all -- of the charging documents. But he also demanded they explain to him, by "10:59 a.m." Wednesday why he shouldn't unseal the whole shebang. And, the judge warned all present, that the more government officials talked about the contents of that sealed document, the less inclined he'd be to keep it sealed.
Following tomorrow's 11 a.m. court appearance, a detention hearing regarding Chamberlain's fate is tentatively scheduled for Thursday. Chamberlain, currently represented by federal public defender Jodi Linker, remains incarcerated; prosecutors described him as a danger to the public and a flight risk.
An abridged version of the charging documents will, momentarily, be made available to the public. This article will be updated when that occurs.
Update, 11:40 a.m.: The criminal complaint -- sans attachments -- has been posted online, as has the amended complaint. You can view them here.
The affidavit is penned by FBI Special Agent Michael P. Eldridge who claims he personally spoke to Chamberlain on Saturday, May 31 at a coffee shop near Chamberlain's Polk Street apartment. At this time, per the affidavit, Chamberlain admitted that "he was aware of the Tor network and that he sometimes played poker on 'black market' websites." The laptop he used for this, Chamberlain continued, was within his apartment. After being permitted to leave the coffee shop "Chamberlain was observed driving in an apparent intentionally reckless manner at a high rate of speed, failing to stop at posted lights and signs."