"The court would find this defendant, in the small, anti-social world he created, is an extreme danger," U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Bobrick said during a short hearing.
Bobrick said he would have refused to grant bail to Joseph Konopka, an issue made moot by the defendant's waiver of his right to a bail hearing and a preliminary hearing. Konopka, 25, and formerly of De Pere, Wis., will remain in custody in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, pending formal charges and an arraignment.
Konopka is being held on a federal complaint accusing him of storing sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide in his subterranean home adjacent to the Blue Line subway tunnel under Chicago's S. Dearborn St. The cyanide poses a serious danger and would form a potentially deadly cloud when mixed with acid.
Authorities say Konopka rekeyed the locks in several small storage areas and created his own little domain of exploration under some of the city's busiest streets. He used the Internet to lure juveniles to join him in photographing and mapping the tunnels connected to the subway system and buildings in Chicago's loop.
A 15-year-old boy was arrested with Konopka when they were discovered early Saturday morning in a basement of a building on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. Both attempted to flee through a utility tunnel but were caught carrying a police radio scanner, numerous locksmith tools and a digital camera, according to police.
The teen was charged in juvenile court with criminal trespass and released to his parents' custody.
Konopka apparently used the tools and his skills in picking and changing locks to gain access to an underground labyrinth holding the utility workings of a major city.
When he walked into the courtroom Wednesday, Konopka was within blocks of the subway tunnel where authorities say they found his stash of potentially deadly chemicals.
He appeared thin and unemotional, nodding quietly as he read over documents presented by his attorney, Matthew Madden. No friends or relatives appeared in court to support Konopka, whose family lives in De Pere.
The defendant looked straight ahead throughout the hearing; he said nothing as Madden said Konopka agreed to waive his rights to the hearings.
Bobrick said he was more than convinced that Konopka was a danger and that he had hoarded the cyanide and other chemicals for a future attempt to disrupt the public. Authorities say Konopka has a history of vandalism in Wisconsin, where he has been charged with starting a fire on a gas pipeline, shorting out a power substation and burglarizing radio and television stations. Damage from crimes Konopka has been charged with have been estimated at $2.5 million to $3 million, authorities say.
At the time of his arrest, Konopka was wanted on an arrest warrant after he skipped bail in Door County.
Bobrick said he had no doubt that Konopka would flee again, if released on bail.
With her grandson facing a prolonged stay in federal custody, Marian Konopka said she worries about him.
"My daughter said once they get him in jail, they better keep a suicide watch on him. I think he would become very depressed," she said in an interview at her home.
She said he coped well during the times he spent in jail in several Wisconsin counties, but he was facing as much as 10 years in prison if convicted of several charges in Shawano County, and Marian Konopka is convinced that is why her grandson fled.
"He's been jailed for a few months already and survived just beautifully," she said. "He's not a thug. He's polite and soft-spoken and they treated him well in jail. . . . Prison will be something else."
The federal charge of possessing a chemical weapon carries an indeterminate term in prison, with no cap on how long a judge could lock him away.
Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel staff, reporting from De Pere, contributed to this report.
Have an opinion on this story? Write a letter to the editor or start an online forum.
Subscribe today and receive 4 weeks free! Sign up now.