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20 months for ex-CTA mechanic who sold explosives to undercover agent

A former Chicago Transit Authority bus mechanic who thought he was selling a homemade “bunker buster” explosive to a felon aiming to blow up a rival drug dealer’s car was sentenced Thursday to 20 months in federal prison.

The purported felon turned out to be an undercover agent working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. And not only did John Hegarty sell him 236 illegal explosives for $700 on May 3, 2013, he gave the agent advice like, “I wouldn’t f— around with the gas tank.”

He suggested placing an explosive under the cowl of the car, instead.

“If you really want to f— up the guy’s car, I could talk to my guy and have longer fuses made, that way you can get the f— outta town,” Hegarty said during a secretly recorded conversation.

But that’s not all. The undercover agent later told him he planned to blow up a Subway restaurant for the insurance proceeds, authorities said. Once again, they said, Hegarty didn’t hesitate and instead sold him 306 devices for $2,500 on May 20, 2014.

“These are the big f—ers, you can feel how heavy,” Hegarty allegedly told the agent while pointing to a cardboard box, according to a criminal complaint.

In all, Hegarty made thousands of homemade flash-powder explosives between the summers of 2011 and 2014, using at least 800 pounds of the powder, according to the feds. And between August 2012 and May 2014, he sold the undercover agent 1,482 explosive devices for $7,940 over eight transactions in various places including a Metra parking lot about three blocks from the home he shared with his parents in the 6900 block of North Osceola, officials have said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Nasser compared it in court Thursday to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that landed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a federal death sentence this month. She said Hegarty’s 800 pounds of flash powder was more volatile than the powder used in Boston.

The ATF found 50 pounds of explosive materials, fuses and tubes when they searched his garage in June 2014, prosecutors said in court filings. Some had rocks taped to them.

“These were not, at all, fireworks,” Nasser said. “These were illegal explosive devices.”

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, who handed down the sentence, agreed. Hegarty, who was raised in Chicago by adoptive parents, pleaded guilty in February to manufacturing and dealing explosive materials without a license. And Coleman told Hegarty he could have faced more serious charges.

“Wrong last name — may have easily been in that position,” Coleman said.

Hegarty’s attorney, Sergio Rodriguez, told the judge, “This isn’t the Boston Marathon bombing, and we’re fortunate.” He wrote in court filings that Hegarty, an admitted alcoholic who started drinking when he was 14, sold the explosives to help an old girlfriend and her daughters.

Hegarty himself asked Coleman for “another chance.”

“I’m truly grateful that nobody ever got hurt by anything I’ve ever made,” Hegarty said.

But the judge said Hegarty potentially put several people in harm’s way, including his parents and neighborhood children.

“The seriousness cannot be underscored,” Coleman said.