SPRINGFIELD — A week after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, a Decatur man who fancied himself a terrorist pleaded guilty in connection with a failed plot to blow up a federal courthouse in Central Illinois.
Michael C. Finton, 31, who was a fry cook at a fish and chicken restaurant in Decatur, was speedily sentenced to 28 years in a federal lock-up Monday at a hearing in East St. Louis.
Finton was accused of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against the United States after he tried to blow up a van full of explosives at the federal courthouse in downtown Springfield in September 2009. He was unaware when he attempted to detonate the bombs that he’d been set-up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Finton, who had been going by the name “Talib Islam” before the failed attack, had been slated to stand trial later this year after his case was moved from Springfield to East St. Louis.
News of Finton’s plea agreement and his subsequent sentencing by U.S. District Judge David R. Herndon was announced by Todd Hinnen, acting assistant attorney general for national security, U.S. Attorney James A. Lewis of the Central District of Illinois, and Armando Fernandez, acting special agent in charge of the FBI Springfield Division.
“Michael Finton is one of a number of young Americans over the past two years who, under the influence of a radical and violent ideology, have sought to carry out acts of terrorism in the United States,” Hinnen said in a formal statement. “Although a coordinated undercover law enforcement investigation thwarted Mr. Finton’s plot to destroy the federal courthouse in Springfield, this case underscores the need to remain vigilant against the threat posed by homegrown extremism.”
Finton converted to Islam following a stay in the state prison system for robbery from 1999 to 2005.
Investigators began tracking him after finding a letter Finton had written expressing admiration for John Walker Lindh, a man also known as the “American Taliban.”
Finton met on several occasions with an undercover law enforcement officer whom Finton believed was acting on behalf of al-Qaeda. During a meeting in late July 2009, Finton identified the federal building in Springfield as a target and proposed that two vehicle-borne bombs be used, the first to do the initial damage, and the second to attack emergency crews responding to the explosions.
On Sept. 23, 2009, Finton traveled the 40 miles from Decatur to Springfield and took possession of a van he believed contained a one-ton bomb. The explosive device was a fake.
Finton drove the vehicle to the Paul Findley Federal Building and Courthouse at 600 East Monroe Street, which is located about four blocks from the Capitol in the heart of downtown Springfield. He parked the van across the street from a district office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Peoria Republican, which he also hoped to destroy.
Finton armed the so-called explosives and drove off with an undercover agent he thought was a al-Qaeda operative. He then punched a code into a cell phone he believed would remotely detonate the bomb.
He was immediately arrested.
“Michael Finton tried to bomb our federal courthouse with the intent to kill innocent civilians, committed public servants and dedicated first responders,” Lewis said, “This terrible attempt was prevented through the excellent investigative work of the Springfield FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and assisting law enforcement agencies.”
On Monday, the downtown courthouse was quiet on the outside. Traffic barriers had been placed along the front of the building on Monroe Street, but not necessarily for security purposes. Rather, the sidewalk out front is undergoing some repairs.