After Brian Henderson’s threatening emails failed to reap the $5 million that he demanded from Publix, he figured he needed to deliver a “bigger boom.”
The Broward man told FBI agents that he planted a pipe bomb – made with fireworks, a model rocket igniter and an alarm clock – behind a big rack of propane tanks at the front of a Dania Beach Publix store, prosecutors wrote in court records filed Friday.
Henderson said he set the timer to explode in one hour and left, federal prosecutor Michael Walleisa said.
The bomb partly went off sometime after it was planted in late February 2013, but it failed to get the desired response, investigators said.
The explosive device, hidden between the propane tanks and the store’s wall, went unnoticed for three months until Broward Sheriff’s deputies were called May 26 to disable the remains at the Griffin Road store.
“Henderson did not believe that the pipe bomb functioned correctly because he never heard anything about it on the news,” prosecutors wrote.
After failing to get the attention of company officials, Henderson said he decided to take his extortion campaign closer to Publix’s Lakeland headquarters.
In early March 2013, he said he built another pipe bomb – using the remote control from a radio-controlled toy car, fireworks and a fireworks fuse that he estimated would take about three minutes to burn, according to the FBI.
Henderson, 49, of Hallandale Beach, rented a car and drove 440 miles roundtrip to a Publix store about 20 miles south of Lakeland in a town whose name he did not recall, investigators said.
Henderson told agents he placed a pipe bomb in a trash can in front of the store’s main entrance at closing time, used the remote control to detonate it and immediately drove off.
Agents said he later emailed Publix officials, saying he assumed “no one was hurt too bad” because he saw no newspaper reports. The email warned the “next incident will be during working hours” and reporters would be tipped off.
“You have one last chance to end this quietly. The price is now $10m[illion] and it must be in private numbered account in the Cayman Islands,” the email read. If the company did not pay up quickly, the email said “the price goes to $50m.”
Dressed in jail scrubs and using a wheelchair, Henderson appeared briefly Friday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. He was shot and injured by deputies Dec. 13 when investigators said he tried to rob a Chase bank in Dania Beach.
He has been locked up without bond since December and is now facing more than a dozen federal charges linked to the attempted bank robbery, the Publix extortion attempt and a similar effort to extort money by threatening to poison products from a New Jersey company that has not been publicly identified.
Henderson told agents that he came up with the plan to extort Publix in January 2013 and started out using computer software to create a photo of a fake bomb he emailed to the company. When that got no reaction, he escalated the plan, agents said.
In December, Henderson told a judge he was an unemployed bar and restaurant manager and owed about $30,000 because of his failed wood sculpture import business.
“We took the threats very seriously for the safety of our associates and customers. We immediately contacted the FBI … and worked diligently with them,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in an email Friday. She declined further comment because of the continuing investigation.