MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge denied bail Wednesday to a New York City math teacher accused of paying students to help him and his twin brother build bombs in their shared bedroom.
Wearing leg shackles and navy-blue prison scrubs, Christian Toro was joined in court this morning by about a half a dozen relatives who stood ready to post the 27-year-old’s bond.
Along with twin brother Tyler, whose bail hearing has not been scheduled, Christian was arrested on Feb. 15 after authorities turned up more than 30 pounds of various chemicals used in explosives while executing a search warrant on their apartment.
These chemicals, as well as a diary kept by Tyler, a box of firecrackers and a bag of metal spheres that could be used as projectiles in a bomb, were all found in a bedroom that the brothers shared, according to the 5-page complaint.
Though federal defender Amy Gallicchio sought a $100,000 bail package, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cott called Christian a danger to the community and said he must await trial at the detention center MDC-Brooklyn.
During the hearing, Gallicchio repeatedly disputed the allegations against Toro.
In addition to arguing that were was “nothing in this complaint other than speculation,” Gallicchio said that the government cannot prove that Toro was planning to build a “destructive device” with what she described as “inert materials found in an apartment.”
There was “no sinister motive, no target … nothing that suggests intent,” said Gallicchio.
What the government characterized as the stockpiling of explosive materials, Gallicchio called “the emptying of firecrackers.”
“There is no bomb found in this apartment,” the defense attorney exclaimed.
Judge Cott interjected: “One can draw intent from activity.”
“They weren’t fruit,” Cott added. “Fireworks are fireworks.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Hanft told the court meanwhile that, in addition to the powder explosive materials described in the complaint, agents also found gasoline and Styrofoam, what she called “improvised Napalm,” at the Toros’ apartment.
When the raid began, Hanft added, agents found Toro trying to flush marijuana down the toilet.
Signed by FBI Special Agent Seth Yockel, the complaint says investigators set their sights on Toro and his brother after arresting an unnamed student for calling in a bomb threat to Harlem Prep High School on Dec. 4, 2017.
Though the complaint does not get into these details, the Associated Press reported that the arrested student was a 15-year-old girl whom Toro was charged on Jan. 31 with raping.
Christian Toro taught math at Harlem Prep but formally resigned on Jan. 10, after this student’s arrest.
Yockel says the work laptop Toro returned to the school contained compromising data, and that he and other agents interviewed Toro on Feb. 6 about why he downloaded a book about explosives to the laptop.
Toro claimed to have done so inadvertently while researching the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 14, students from Harlem High School told the agents that Toro had paid at least two students $50 an hour to work at his apartment on breaking apart fireworks so that they could extract and stockpile their explosive powders.
The visits lasted from October 2017 to January 2018, according to the complaint. One of the students recruited by Toro was the same girl who called in the threat and who has accused Toro of raping her.
Several incriminating lines from Tyler’s diary are quoted in the complaint. “WE ARE TWIN TOROS STRIKE US NOW, WE WILL RETURN WITH NANO THERMITE,” it said.
“IF YOU’RE REGISTERED AS A SEX OFFENDER, THINGS WILL BE DIFFICULT. BUT I AM HERE 100%, LIVING, BUYING WEAPONS. WHATEVER WE NEED.”
Yockel says Christian’s backpack meanwhile contained an index card with the text “UNDER THE FULL MOON THE SMALL ONES WILL KNOW TERROR” scrawled on it.
Each brother is charged with one count of unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Christian Toro was also charged with an additional count of distribution of explosive materials to a minor, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
They pleaded not guilty at their arraignment before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman.
At Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutor Hanft noted that Christian’s cellphone contains a text message where his brother Tyler recommended that they buy a police scanner to emulate the shooter who mowed down hundreds in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.
“Copy,” Christian replied, as quoted by the government. “I see a couple on Amazon.”
Tyler is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.