SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah man who was a target of a special FBI task force for allegedly plotting to bomb government offices pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of illegally selling a machine gun.
The FBI has also investigated accusations that Keith Max Pierce threatened to kill members of Congress who voted for the USA Patriot Act. But an indictment issued Tuesday doesn't include bomb- or terrorism-related charges and only mirrors the government complaint used to arrest Pierce on July 10.
Pierce was charged with failing to register as a gun dealer, illegal possession of a machine gun and erasing the gun's serial number. The FBI has said he sold an AR-15 rifle that was modified to fire in full automatic mode to an undercover agent May 28.
FBI officials have called Pierce a dangerous threat and had billed his arrest as a success for its Joint Terrorism Task Force in Utah. FBI agent Steve Daniels testified at a detention hearing last week that Pierce bragged he could bomb an Internal Revenue Service office, police station and courthouse in Provo.
An FBI spokeswoman on Friday wouldn't comment on why Pierce isn't being charged with any bomb or conspiracy charges. She refused to run a request from The Associated Press to her superiors. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City also declined comment.
Pierce's federal defender said Friday he didn't know why the government wasn't bringing more serious charges, if it actually considered the man a terrorism threat. In court last week, Mark Gregersen said the government had no charges or solid evidence of a bomb threat and that ammonia nitrate seized from his client's apartment was a legal fertilizer.
On Friday, the 34-year-old man appeared briefly in federal court in Salt Lake City, saying he understood the charges and penalties. "Not guilty," he said.
His trial on the gun charges was set for Sept. 30.
Nothing in the government complaint alleges Pierce was motivated by IRS scandals involving allegations of targeting conservative groups that apply for tax-exempt status, Gregersen said.