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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

News Release

For Immediate Release

Thursday, July 5, 2018
Contact: Charlene Hennessy

ATF Arson and Explosives Task Force, Philadelphia Police, PA Attorney General’s Office and the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office Interdict Illegal Explosives Devices

PHILADELPHIA – Through their combined investigative efforts, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Arson and Explosives Task Force, along with investigators from the Philadelphia Police Department, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, and the District Attorney’s Office of Delaware County, were successful in interdicting numerous Illegal Explosive Devices. 

Pursuant to a joint investigation conducted by the agencies listed above, Juan Cortez of Collingdale, Pennsylvania, was identified as a person of interest in the illegal distribution of the explosive devices. Since June 3, 2018, there has been an increase in the criminal use of these types of explosive devices on ATM machines in the city of Philadelphia. Chief Deputy Attorney General Brendan O’Malley, from the Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, will be the lead prosecutor in the case.

On July 2, 2018, Juan Cortez was arrested after officers from the Philadelphia Highway Patrol conducted a car-stop that yielded the recovery of a large cache of consumer fireworks along with approximately 80 “M-type devices”; some similar to the devices used in the ATM explosions.  The car Cortez was driving at the time of the stop was also used during a number of undercover purchases that investigators conducted.  A search warrant was subsequently executed at Cortez’s residence with the assistance of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division Bomb Squad which yielded the recovery of additional M devices and transaction records.

The seized devices ranged in sizes from two and a half inches to six inches, and are commonly referred to as “M-80s”, “M-100’s”, “M-1000’s” or “quarter sticks.”  Since June 3, 2018, these types of devices have been used in attempts to gain access to various ATMs in the city of Philadelphia, as well as various acts of vandalism.  These devices contain enough explosive material to cause serious bodily injury, and in certain cases, death.

These devices are often illegally manufactured, sold and used during the 4th of July fireworks season and are inherently dangerous due to their explosive material composition and unpredictability during their manufacture, transportation and use.  Homemade explosive materials and products can pose a particular risk for injury, because the person(s) manufacturing these devices often lack the knowledge, skills, and experience required for such explosive related activities.  ATF, the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) consider these “M class” explosive devices, along with “cherry bombs” and “silver salutes”, illegal because they exceed the CPSC explosive weight limits for their classification of consumer fireworks.




Anyone having information about the possession, manufacture and/or sale of these types of devices please call the ATF 24/7 hotline at 1-888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477).  Information can also be sent to, through ATF’s website at Tips can be submitted anonymously using the Reportit® app or by visiting, using the Philadelphia Field Division as the location. 


Philadelphia Field Division