Man accused of setting fire, trying to destroy multiple Coast cell tower sites, says ATF
Manuel DeJesus was arrested on March 8 and is facing a federal charge for one of the sites.
JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - A man is facing federal charges from the ATF after agents say he maliciously set fire to a cell tower.
Manuel Alejandro DeJesus is believed to have set fire to at least three cell towers in the Jackson County area that were either destroyed or where destruction was attempted, said ATF Agent Jason Denham of the Gulfport office.
Charges have not yet been filed in those investigations. However, DeJesus has been charged with one federal count in connection to a fire that was started earlier this month in Moss Point.
According to an affidavit filed Tuesday in the U.S. Southern District Court in Gulfport, Moss Point Fire Department responded to a call at 9:29 am on March 2, 2022, about a possible transformer fire behind the Comfort Inn and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, which is located on Highway 63 just south of I-10. When they arrived, they discovered that it wasn’t a transformer but was instead a generator inside a locked cell tower fence.
Further investigation revealed that someone pulled the power meters and threw them over the fence, removed parts from the generator and intentionally cut numerous wires. Several bottles with rags, some of which had fire damage and some that were not damaged by fire, were placed at different locations throughout the scene, states the affidavit.
Agents from the Gulfport offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with the FBI, responded to the scene. Wireless and utility company representatives also were there.
On March 8, with the assistance of the Pascagoula Police Department, authorities executed a search warrant on a 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 registered to Manuel DeJesus. Several items were reportedly found in the truck, including cable/wire cutters and a GPS device.
Later that day, an additional search warrant was carried out on the GPS device found inside the truck. That search revealed that the truck had traveled to a location near the Cracker Barrel on March 2, arriving at 8:40 am.
DeJesus was arrested and booked into Jackson County Adult Detention Center on March 8. He is charged with maliciously damaging or destroying, or attempting to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce.
On March 17, agents were able to obtain surveillance footage from a source near the tower that shows a vehicle matching the truck’s description pulling into the Comfort Inn parking lot at 8:40 am. According to the affidavit, the video shows smoke beginning to show at 9:26 am. After the smoke appears, the truck is reportedly seen leaving the Comfort Inn parking lot.
Three days later on March 21, a Mississippi Crime Laboratory Latent Print Examiner confirmed a latent fingerprint was found on a part of the generator that was removed and thrown over the fence from the tower/fire scene. That print was compared to prints of DeJesus and was a match, said the affidavit.
Among the evidence authorities found in DeJesus’ truck was a sign that reads “JW Spy Antenna” with the name “American Tower” written on it. Attached to that sign was also a copy of La Atalaya, which is a Jehovah’s Witness publication of The Watchtower in Spanish.
American Tower is the company that owns the tower site, which is leased out to different telecommunication companies. According to the affidavit, a representative of one of those companies told the ATF that they got their wires from an out-of-state source, which makes the site an instrument of interstate commerce, thus resulting in the federal investigation.
After examining photos of the scene and talking with the ATF agent, a certified fire investigator determined that the fire was intentionally caused and classified it as incendiary. DeJesus is also facing the federal charge because there was an improvised incendiary device used to destroy or attempt to destroy the tower site, said Agent Jason Denham with the Gulfport ATF office.
It’s not yet clear whether the other tower sites would fall under federal jurisdiction. To date, state or local charges have not been filed against DeJesus. However, more charges could be pending.
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