Charles Edward Gresham Jr. seems an unlikely villain. His Ellicott City neighbors consider the former college educator pleasant and easy-going.
Yet, federal prosecutors say, Gresham allegedly sent fear through an already tense nation by trying to blow up two chemical tanks in Norfolk, Va., at a time when the Persian Gulf war has triggered concern about terrorism.
Gresham and two Arizona men are charged with conspiring to plant pipe bombs on the tanks in an insurance fraud scheme. Prosecutors say Gresham owned 2.2 million gallons of sodium hydrosulfide, a flammable bleaching agent, that were stored in a tank he leased and that the three were trying to destroy the tanks to collect insurance money and get rid of the unmarketable chemical.
The FBI arrested Gresham at his home Saturday.
Yesterday in Baltimore, U.S. Magistrate Paul M. Rosenberg ordered Gresham held pending a detention hearing tomorrow on a charge of conspiracy to use an explosive to commit felony and mail and wire fraud.
Gresham, who owns Applied Technology Inc., which he operates out of his home, leased the storage tank from Allied Terminals, 10 miles from the Norfolk naval base.
The leased tank was near one that contained highly flammable methanol. An Allied employee found six crude pipe bombs attached to the tank holding the methanol Feb. 4.
Prosecutor Ira L. Oring said in court yesterday that Gresham, 57, of the 3800 block of Spring Meadow Drive, should be denied bail pending trial because he is a danger to the community and a high risk of flight to avoid prosecution.
Oring said federal prosecutors in Norfolk would seek an indictment against Gresham and two co-defendants, and would handle the case unless Gresham decides to plead guilty here.
Gresham, a slightly paunchy man with short gray hair, appeared in court wearing khaki pants and jacket, brown socks and loafers, a red-plaid flannel shirt and black wire-framed glasses.
After the brief court hearing, Gresham's wife, Catherine, talked to him at the defense table. She sat with one arm around him as they spoke quietly, then kissed him twice before he was led away in handcuffs by FBI agents to be turned over to federal marshals.
FBI officials said a federal magistrate in Phoenix, Ariz., ordered co-defendants Joseph Wayne Openshaw, 36, of St. Johns, Ariz., and Cecil Ross, 31, of Glendale, Ariz., held pending a preliminary hearing Friday and further questioning by federal agents.
The FBI said in an affidavit that Gresham expected to get about $1 million from the insurance carrier and offered $250,000 each to Openshaw and Ross.
The affidavit said that Gresham first tried to hire a Virginia Beach, Va., man to blow up the methanol storage tank. Gresham gave the man a map of the storage tank area, and said he wanted the tank destroyed so he could collect the insurance. He indicated that he had tried unsuccessfully to have it blown up earlier, the affidavit said.
The Virginia Beach man told the FBI of the scheme after he learned of the bombing attempt last week. The affidavit said Openshaw admitted the scheme to the FBI Feb. 8. He allegedly told agents he met with Gresham Jan. 2 to discuss it.
Ross admitted to the FBI that he attended the Jan. 2 meeting and that he faxed a diagram of the proposed pipe bomb to Gresham a week later, the affidavit said. He admitted going to Prescott, Ariz., with Openshaw to obtain dynamite for Gresham, the affidavit said.
FBI Agent W. Lane Crocker Jr., in Norfolk, said Gresham had a $2.7 million insurance policy on his chemical.
News of the charges stunned Gresham's former colleagues, who say he had a solid, though unremarkable, reputation in academic circles.
A 1958 graduate of the University of Baltimore, Gresham served as an ordnance specialist in the military and was an industrial engineer before he was appointed an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore School of Business in 1970.
He was named vice president for development of alumni affairs in 1972 and held the position for 10 years. UB officials did not say why he left.
Katie Ryan, a UB spokeswoman, said the university wanted to distance itself from the matter because Gresham ended his affiliation with the school nine years ago.
After leaving UB, Gresham went to Morgan State University, where he taught part time for a year. Officials there had hoped he would become a full-time professor.
"All the things we expected didn't materialize," said Herbert E. Olivera, the former business school dean at Morgan. "We just felt that some of the courses he wanted to teach and his credentials just didn't match."
Olivera said Gresham was "very pleasant," but at times would disappear for a week or two without notice and get other people to fill in for him.
After Morgan, Gresham was an associate professor at Towson State University for about three years, colleagues say. He left after being denied tenure.
"We were building a faculty at the time and we wanted people with stronger credentials," said William R. Brown, a former TSU business school chairman who recalled Gresham as "an average colleague" whose interests appeared to gravitate more toward administration than academic research.
Recently, Gresham told former TSU colleague Charles H. Mott that he had started his own consulting firm.
"I had the impression that he was doing really well and that he didn't seem particularly worried that he didn't get the promotion at Towson," said Mott, who now teaches at West Chester (Pa.) State University.
Some neighbors in Gresham's quiet, upscale neighborhood in the Dunloggin section of Ellicott City said he was "friendly, very delightful," but were unaware that he operated a business from his home.