Man sentenced to 25 years for Oklahoma City bomb plot

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A man who was convicted of attempting to detonate a bomb outside an Oklahoma City bank has been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

According to a criminal complaint, the FBI arrested Jerry Drake Varnell on Aug. 12, 2017, after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he believed to be an explosives-laden van in an alley next to BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City.

“He wanted to make the biggest impact wherever he was going to place his bomb. And, in his mind, this would have been the biggest impact in Oklahoma,” said Raul Bujanda, the assistant special agent in charge for Oklahoma City.

Investigators were tipped off in December 2016 by a confidential source about Varnell’s aspirations to bomb the Eccles Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., “in a manner similar to the Oklahoma City Bombing,” court records show.

However, he soon changed his mind and decided to target a building in downtown Oklahoma City.

BancFirst located in downtown Oklahoma City
BancFirst located in downtown Oklahoma City

An undercover FBI agent posed as a person who could help him with the bombing.

Court documents say after a final rehearsal of the route, Varnell drove the van by himself to the alley and loading dock of the BancFirst building.

“The target himself, Mr. Varnell, would call the bomb through a triggering device in a cell phone that was affixed to the bomb,” said Bujanda. “He would call the phone and it would ring, and that’s what would detonate the bomb.”

Instead, law enforcement officers swooped in and took Varnell into custody.

Varnell, Drake
Drake Varnell, Oklahoma Department of Corrections 2015

In the statement to KFOR in 2017, family members said Varnell is a paranoid schizophrenic and was “aided and abetted” by the FBI.

 “The mental health system has consistently failed us due to the lack of establishments and health care coverage for a person like him. He has attended college and just enrolled in welding school. His medications allow him to be somewhat functional but he will never be completely functional in life. His brain does not work like a normal person and never will due to the nature of his mental illness. He has suffered through countless serious full-blown schizophrenic delusional episodes and he has been put in numerous mental hospitals since he was 16 years old,” a statement from the family read.

In February of 2019, a federal jury convicted Varnell on charges of attempted use of an explosive device and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Varnell was sentenced to 300 months in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release.

“The U.S. Government identified Jerry Drake Varnell after learning of his intent to commit this attack,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy Downing.  “This case required thorough investigation and careful coordination among agents and prosecutors in a matter that is our highest priority—terrorism. The investigation and prosecution stopped an attempt to seemingly replicate the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in our Nation’s history.  The sentence imposed today will hold accountable Varnell for his crime and deter others from engaging in this conduct.  I want to thank the agents, analysts, law enforcement officials, and prosecutors whose dedication is responsible for this case.”

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