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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Southern District of California
Randy S. Grossman, United States Attorney
For Immediate Release
Friday, January 27, 2023

Chula Vista Man Sentenced for Blowing Up ATMs

SAN DIEGO – Chad Lee Engel was sentenced in federal court today to 138 months in prison for blowing up ATM machines to steal the money contained inside.

Engel pleaded guilty in July 2022, admitting that he participated in conduct outlined in the original indictment, including his part in causing the explosion that damaged a California Coast Credit Union ATM, located at 4285 Ruffin Road in San Diego, on July 4, 2017; and an ATM located at a Chevron gas station, located at 9650 Miramar Road in San Diego on August 13, 2017.

In the first incident, Engel admitted that he and a coconspirator made and detonated a pipe bomb on a metal shelf underneath the ATM, which caused significant damage to the ATM’s structure, but did not expose the money contained inside. After a joint investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s Metro Arson Strike Team and the FBI, bomb technicians identified the post-blast debris as a destructive device.

Engel admitted that in the second incident, in the early morning hours of August 13, 2017, he and an accomplice approached an outdoor ATM located at a Chevron gas station. They worked together to drill a hole in its housing, and dispersed an unknown gas (such as acetylene or propane) into the ATM. Engel then placed and ignited a hobby fuse inside the drilled hole, which resulted in an explosion that destroyed the ATM. After the explosion, Engel retrieved a cash box from the post-blast debris that contained approximately $7,000, and both he and the coconspirator fled. Later that day, bomb technicians identified the use of the gas to blow up the ATM as a destructive device.

After Engel and his coconspirator were charged in 2017, additional investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ATF investigators revealed that Engel and the accomplice attempted to locate and break into other ATM machines before their activities on July 4 and August 13 of 2017 were discovered. Through his plea of guilty, Engel admitted that on June 18, 2017, they broke into a Super Laundry in National City where they hoped to burglarize an ATM machine located inside. Although they were unsuccessful in breaking into that ATM machine, they stole approximately $140 from within the Super Laundry.

One week later, on June 25, 2017, Engel and his coconspirator broke into another ATM machine located at a 76 Gas Station located at 12860 Rancho Peñasquitos Boulevard in San Diego. They loaded the ATM into their vehicle, took the ATM to an area near Fiesta Island, and used a grinder and cutting torch to break into the ATM, which allowed them to steal the money located inside. Eventually, a subsequent indictment incorporated these actions into Engel’s charges, and he admitted to them in his plea agreement.

“This is a just sentence for a defendant whose dangerous actions caused significant damage,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “If you use explosives to break the law, you are going to prison for a long time.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Metro Arson Strike Team, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National City Police Department for their excellent work on this case.

“ATF is dedicated to preventing and reducing violent crime involving the criminal misuse of explosives, and protecting the public by enforcing laws and regulations governing the explosives industries,” said ATF Los Angeles Field Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Cicolani. “ATF remains vigilant about working with its partners to keep the public safe by investigating and perfecting charges against those who misuse explosives for greed and public destruction.”

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 17-cr-03401-JLS

Chad Lee Engel                                          Age: 50                       Chula Vista, CA


Use of an Explosive to Commit a Felony in violation of 18 U.S.C § 844(h)
Maximum Penalty: Mandatory minimum 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence

Conspiracy to Commit Bank Burglary in violation of 18 U.S.C §§ 2113(b) and 371
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
San Diego Fire Department
San Diego Police Department
Federal Bureau of Investigation
National City Police Department

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

This case is also the result of the ongoing efforts of the Violent Crime and Human Trafficking (VCHT) Section. Formed in 2019, the VCHT is tasked with leading collaborations between federal and local law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving violent crimes, firearms and gang cases; sex trafficking and child exploitation; civil rights, and labor trafficking. The VCHT Section oversees the Southern District of California Coordinators for Project Safe Neighborhoods, Human Trafficking, and Project Safe Childhood. The VCHT Section also provides federal prosecutors to the downtown San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force-Gang Group, the North County Gang Task Force, and the East County Gang Task Force.

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