Arrest in New Jersey pizzeria bomb plot

May 17, 2010 6:56:37 PM PDT
Police have arrested the landlord of the building where investigators foiled what they described as a potentially deadly plot.

Jersey City Deputy Police Chief Peter Nalbach called the bomb "very rudimentary." It was described as a gas can rigged with a wire that was placed inside the pizzeria's front door, possibly intended to detonate when someone opened it.

"If you watched 'MacGyver' as a kid you could probably figure out how to do it," Nalbach said, referring to the 1980s TV show. "But if it had gone off, there would have been major destruction."

A bomb squad member was seen removing a clear container holding an amber-colored liquid from Willy Joes's pizzeria. Police Chief Thomas Comey said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives was examining the container's contents.

On Monday night, police arrested Milan Bolich, 54, the landlord and owner of the building at 451 Palisade Avenue. He was charged with aggravated arson, risking widespread injury and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.

"This appears to be an isolated incident that stems from this one location," he said.

Police did not offer details on the dispute with the tenant, who occupied Willy Joes's pizzeria for about four months earlier this year. But neighbor Alberto Gonzalez, who worked at the pizzeria, said he helped the man, whom police did not identify, move pizza-making equipment out of the restaurant last week.

The parties had a court date Monday morning, Comey said. But that became a footnote after police and firefighters responded to the building for a report of a gas leak at about 5:30 a.m., entered through a back door and found the bomb.

Police Deputy Chief Peter Nalbach called the bomb "very rudimentary." He described it as a gas can rigged with a wire that was placed inside the pizzeria's front door, set up to detonate when someone opened the door.

"If you watched 'MacGyver' as a kid you could probably figure out how to do it," Nalbach said, referring to the 1980s action-adventure television show about a secret agent who uses household items and a Swiss Army knife to solve problems and get out of jams. "But if it had gone off, there would have been major destruction."

The pizzeria sits on a block of attached homes and businesses across from a park that features a panoramic view of Manhattan's skyline. Police evacuated buildings along the block and closed the street for several hours. By noon, traffic was allowed through and residents were back in their homes.

Police and firefighters responded to the building for a report of a gas leak at about 5:30 a.m. They found the would-be bomb after entering the building through a back door, police said.

Sonia Roman, whose ground-floor apartment opens onto a side street around the corner from the pizzeria, said she smelled a strong gas odor when she went out to get her newspaper and immediately called 911.

"It was a foul odor, it was nasty," she said. "My alarm was going off and I wasn't even cooking, so that got me thinking. I just did what anybody would do. They got here very quickly."

Roman said she walked around the corner and saw a wire sticking out from under the front door of the pizzeria.

Comey said the building's owner and the tenant who ran the pizzeria had an ongoing dispute over several weeks that had spilled into court. In fact, he said, they were due in court Monday. The dispute may have been exacerbated when the pizza-making equipment was removed from the shop last week, though it was not clear who owned the equipment or whether it was removed illegally.

Alberto Gonzalez, a neighbor who said he worked at the pizzeria, said he helped his boss move the pizza-making equipment out of the store.

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Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this story.


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