Authorities claim couple worked to start 'racial holy war'

Monday, July 8, 2002

BOSTON -- Police thought they had stumbled onto a simple counterfeiting case when an off-duty officer noticed a young woman passing a phony $20 to a Dunkin' Donuts cashier.

But authorities say they discovered a deeper plot: The counterfeiting was being used to fund plans to blow up Jewish or black landmarks in Boston.

Now a couple described by prosecutors as white supremacists are to go on trial Monday on federal charges they planned a bombing to ignite "a racial holy war."

Leo Felton, the son of civil rights activists, and Erica Chase, his pen pal while he was in prison, were arrested in April 2001 on counterfeiting charges.

When police searched their apartment, they found bomb-making materials, including a 50-pound bag of ammonium nitrate -- the same type of fertilizer used by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Authorities also found books on terrorism, including one describing how to kill people with nerve gas and other poisons, newspaper clippings of an upcoming ceremony at the New England Holocaust Memorial and photos of a bridge named after a late Jewish leader.

Exact target unknown

While prosecutors say they do not know an exact target, they said in court papers that the goal of the plot was to "blow up some structure, building, property or memorial associated with Jewish- and/or African-Americans, thereby advancing the defendants' anti-Semitic and white-supremacist goals and igniting a 'racial holy war.' "

Felton and Chase have both pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy, making counterfeit bills, obstruction of justice, firearms and explosives violations. Felton is also charged with bank robbery and conspiracy to commit bank robbery and could get life in prison if convicted. Chase faces a maximum of 35 years.

Chase told investigators she and Felton never intended to blow up any target but were collecting materials to build a bomb they could detonate on a beach for "entertainment."

"These were not any kind of terrorist plans in any way at all," she said, according to court documents.

Felton's lawyer, Lenore Glaser, said there is no evidence that Felton and Chase planned to bomb an ethnic target.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Merritt declined to be interviewed.

Parents were activists

Felton, 31, was born in Silver Spring, Md., the son of a white mother and a black father who were civil rights activists. After his parents divorced, he lived with his mother and her female partner.

He became involved in white supremacist groups while in a New Jersey prison, where he served a three- to nine-year sentence for attempted murder in the beating of a black taxi driver. Prosecutors allege he is a member of the White Order of Thule.

In a letter to a Boston newspaper, Felton blamed his parents and their interracial marriage for his troubles.

He said the commingling of black and white blood was "evil."

The 6-foot-7 Felton sports an assortment of racist tattoos; the words "Skin" and "Head" are tattooed on his shaved head.

Chase, 22, knew Felton's cellmate and began writing to Felton in prison in April 2000.

After his release, Felton lived briefly with a woman he had married while he was in prison. Prosecutors say he began buying books on how to conduct terrorist actions, assume a new identity and make explosives.

Three months later, he moved to Boston to live with Chase.

Chase, who graduated from Nauset High School on Cape Cod, had returned to Massachusetts from Indiana using counterfeit money Felton allegedly made on his computer.

She met Felton for the first time in person in April 2001. Ten days later, they were arrested after Chase tried to pass the counterfeit $20.

Glaser, Felton's lawyer, said she is concerned that the prosecutors' emphasis on Felton's alleged ties to white supremacists and the public's fear of terrorism could sway the jury.

"It labels them in extreme ways which then might make a jury skip over the evidence and make decisions based on emotion or prejudice or preconceived ideas," she said.

Robert Leikind, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said news of the alleged plot frightened the Jewish community. "We shouldn't underestimate the seriousness of the charges," he said. "These are profoundly serious charges."

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