Informant takes the witness stand in Oklahoma City bomb sting trial

The FBI paid a man more than $23,000 to participate in sting operation against accused bomb maker Jerry Drake Varnell, according to testimony in a federal trial on Wednesday.

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Jerry Drake Varnell. Courtesyy
After the 2016 presidential election, accused bomb maker Jerry Drake Varnell was angry at the government and “out for blood,” according to court testimony from an FBI informant Wednesday.

Varnell, 24, is on trial in federal court in Oklahoma City for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up the BancFirst building in downtown Oklahoma City in 2017. He was arrested in an elaborate FBI sting operation after he unwittingly built a fake bomb and tried to detonate it at the direction of federal agents.

“Fuck Trump, Fuck monopolies. Shit needs to burn,” Varnell said in text message to the informant, according to testimony.

Wearing leg shackles and an orange jail uniform, informant Brent Allen Elisens testified the FBI paid him more than $23,000 to engage Varnell in text message conversations and make covert recordings of him talking about building a bomb in a rented cargo van and parking it outside a bank building in Oklahoma City. Although the FBI paid him, Varnell testified he didn’t cooperate as part of a deal to reduce a prison sentence for a prior crime.

Elisens introduced Varnell to an undercover FBI agent called “The Professor” to help Varnell build a bomb to blow up the BancFirst building in downtown Oklahoma City. The bomb Varnell constructed was — unbeknownst to him — inert and part of an anti-terrorism sting operation.

Elisens smoked pot with Varnell several times, although the FBI had instructed him not to take any drugs, he testified.

FBI informant Brent Elisens is seen in an undated photograph. FACEBOOK

Their recorded conversations were sometimes punctuated with the sound of bong hits. At one point, Varnell turned to his attorney and visibly smiled when the government played a recording that included loud sounds of exhaling and coughing.

In one text conversation, Elisens jokingly asked Varnell if they could make a bomb from food salvaged from restaurant dumpster instead of a real bomb.

“Because I didn’t want to build a bomb,” Elisens said. “It doesn’t make the world a better place.”

Considered a flight risk and a somewhat reluctant witness, a judge signed an order in January to hold Elisens in federal custody until Varnell’s trial.

FURTHER READING:

FBI detonated large ammonium nitrate explosive as part of case against man accused in OKC bomb plot

FBI sting to foil Oklahoma City bomb plot based on informant with history of mental illness, protective orders and threats

Mom of man accused in bombing sting say charges against son based on false information provided by paid informant

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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