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.
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.
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.
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