Indictment: Centre Hall couple sold mortars, operated illegal business

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined state police and Centre County officials to investigate a Centre Hall home explosion.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined state police and Centre County officials to investigate a Centre Hall home explosion.

A Centre Hall couple was indicted Tuesday for selling explosives.

The documents now show just what was being sold.

According to the indictment, James and Christina Woodring “knowingly and willfully conspired” to operate an illegal business selling fireworks.

Fireworks are not necessarily illegal, either under Pennsylvania or U.S. law. Both governments, however, regulate exactly what kinds of fireworks can be sold and to whom.

Pennsylvania allows purchase and sale of “novelties” and “ground and hand-held sparkling devices” without a permit.

With summer around the corner, and the Fourth of July just more than a month away, fireworks tents will begin to pop up around the county. In Pennsylvania, the legal variety can include something the state actually considers “non-fireworks,” things defined as “ground and hand-held sparkling devices,” “novelties” and “toy caps,” according to the state police.

If you want to buy “consumer fireworks,” you need a permit, and the place that sells them needs to be licensed by the state Department of Agriculture.

State Department of Agriculture licenses consumer firework sales to buyers with permits in Pennsylvania.

If you want to buy or sell “display fireworks,” you need a license or permit from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Woodrings, according to the court documents, were not operating a sparkler tent. They weren’t dealing in consumer fireworks. They were selling class 1.3 mortars. But that wasn’t all.

“It was further part of the conspiracy that the defendants altered the regulated explosive class 1.3 mortars in an effort to increase the explosives’ power and volatility,” the indictment read.

According to Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnic Association, the unaltered mortars are powerful stuff.

“That’s professional display,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing that is very strictly enforced by the ATF.”

Mortars like the ones in the Woodrings’ indictment are regulated by the ATF.

The federal grand jury in Scranton returned its indictment on the basis of several “overt acts.” Those include James Woodring purchasing the mortars out of state on May 1 and transporting them to Centre Hall, selling 19 of the altered mortars on May 12 for $240, and selling another 40 mortars, both regulated and altered, between May 16 and May 18 for $520.

Prosecutors said more mortars were altered for sale on May 18.

That was the same day the Woodrings’ Centre Hall home exploded.

James Woodring was arrested on May 20 and arraigned in Harrisburg. Court documents show that Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Caraballo directed a summons to be issued for Christina Woodring on Tuesday after the grand jury indicted the pair for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute explosives, distribution of explosives and manufacturing explosives.

James Woodring was also indicted on charges of possession of firearms by a prohibited person and possession of stolen firearms. He was arraigned on those charges Friday.

Prosecutors said the previously convicted man had a .380 caliber Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol, a 12-gauge Mossberg Maverick shotgun, a 30.06 Remington Sportsman Sport 76 Pump rifle and .223 caliber New Frontier rifle. They claim he was aware the pistol was stolen.

If convicted, federal Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson said at James Woodring’s arraignment that each count could carry up to a 10-year prison sentence and a $250,000 maximum fine.

The indictment also outlined forfeitures of the weapons, 390 rounds of ammunition and $3,000 in cash.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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