Blast from Florida's largest explosives seizure surprises even military experts

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) conducted the largest explosives seizure in Florida's history Monday, collecting nearly 8,000 pounds of explosives allegedly being stockpiled by a Sarasota resident.

Marc Levene is in jail after a yearslong investigation into the arsenal ATF agents said he was stashing in his home and storage units.

Late last year, a U.S. district judge sentenced Levene to five years in federal prison for his crimes, but Monday, the case had more closure when agents detonated the haul at a bombing range in Avon Park.

The investigation into Levene started in 2016, when he was convicted for felony possession and distribution of commercial explosives without a permit. Two years later, investigators said they zeroed in on his property where they confiscated 7,700 pounds of explosive fuses and flash powder.

Disposal would take some assistance. US Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin McGovern, also an explosive ordnance technician, said when the ATF called for help, they thought of the range in Avon Park, but the Air Force is not permitted to dispose of munitions at that location.

“So instead, we used this for training, and set it up as safely as possible,” McGovern said. “Setting up the explosives was the hardest part because it was 30-35 pounds, up to 50-pound boxes, and there were a couple hundred of them. We set them up with gasoline on them to help them ignite and then we just let it go.”

The ordnance consisted of black powder wrapped up in paper, typically used for setting off fireworks simultaneously.

The resulting blast shocked even the experts.

“I didn’t expect it to be that big,” McGovern said. “I thought it’d be quick, just a little bit of smoke, that’s it. But that was a lot bigger than I thought it’d be.”

Tampa ATF’s Special Agent in Charge Daryl McCrary said EOD technicians from MacDill, ATF explosive enforcement officers, and special agent bomb technicians took part. The detonations took three days to complete. McCrary said it was a job well done, but pointed out what could have been.

“This man was selling them on his black-market website,” McGovern said. “Imagine that amount of explosives in close proximity to the places we frequent, what could have occurred... So to get that off the street and keep the public safe, that was a win for everybody.”