Investigators believe the Florence woman arrested on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism was helping her husband, a radicalized member of the Islamic faith who is serving a life prison for first-degree murder, with a plot to murder a warden.
FBI agents arrested Michelle Bastian, 49, Wednesday morning at her workplace, a bakery in Chandler called Urban Oven where she was a bookkeeper. They also served search warrants at her Florence home.
According to court paperwork released Thursday, this investigation goes back to May when “a known source” reported to the Arizona Department of Corrections that Thomas Bastian, Michelle’s husband, was a believer in Islam and had become radicalized.
In September, the same source told the FBI that Thomas “was planning to create an explosive device in order to kill people, to include the prison warden.”
Court paperwork indicates that the same source said Michelle was helping Thomas, who has been in prison since March 31, 2009.
“Further information from the known source revealed that Thomas had a plan in action to create an explosive device to either kill the warden or to plant it in a vending machine located within the visitor section of the prison,” the officer who arrested Michelle wrote in his probable cause statement.
Michelle has been booked on Arizona state terrorism charges.
According to Michelle’s court paperwork, this was not the first time Thomas has threatened members of the law enforcement community, nor was it the first time he mentioned using a bomb.
The Scottsdale Police Department investigated him in 2009 for “threatening the lives of the law enforcement personnel who assisted in his murder conviction and threatened the use of explosives.”
Thomas, according to court paperwork, is housed in a maximum security unit ASPC-Lewis but was working on transferring back into the general population, which would give him access to the vending machines in the area where inmates meet their visitors.
The source, who was not identified, said the idea was for Michelle to give Thomas, who is 10 years her junior, everything he needed to carry out his plan when she visited him.
According to court paperwork, the source’s information was corroborated by evidence discovered during a search of Thomas’ cell, including a publication called “Inspire,” which is put out by al-Qaida, and another called “Dabiq,” which is distributed by ISIS.
“The objective of these publications is to provide detailed instruction on how to commit acts of terrorism and to praise those that have successfully carried out attacks,” the arrested officer wrote. “Located within a stack of detailed handwritten notes on how to construct an explosive device were several pages from an issue of Inspire that contained information on how to construct a bomb out of materials found in ‘your mother’s kitchen.’ … The mail made it past prison security because it was labeled as ‘legal mail.'”
A second search of Thomas’ cell turned up not only new issues of “Inspire” and “Dabiq,” but also a copy of “44 ways of Supporting Jihad.”
Based those findings and evidence FBI agents discovered at Michelle’s home and workplace, including letters from Thomas asking her to send him “radicalized materials” and a handwritten note outlining coded terminology she should use, investigators believe Michelle sent the articles to her husband by disguising them as legal documents.
The ADOC recorded calls between Thomas and Michelle, who served just over two years in prison for theft.
“During one of the calls, Michelle states she sent the ‘articles’ to Thomas. It is believed that Michelle is reference terrorism related [sic] publicans,” according to court paperwork. “She also mentions that she knows that Thomas is a supports of ISIS.”
While it’s not clear when or how they met, the Bastians have been married for less than three years. Court records show that they filed for their marriage license in March 2014 and then married in May. Bastian had already been in prison for five years by then.
During Michelle’s initial court appearance on Thursday, the attorney for the state asked that Michelle be held without bond.
“The defendant appears to be easily influenced by a co-conspirator in this matter,” Assistant Attorney General Scott Blake said. “The state has concern that the defendant will make attempts to smuggle in contraband to the co-conspirator. She has used codes or coded language to accomplish this and disguise materials.”
Handling contraband would not be something new for Michelle.
During her time in prison from September 2006 until October 2008 — she was Michelle Blanchard at the time — she “was disciplined [on two separate occasions] for smuggling contraband.”
The judge set a secured appearance bond of $100,000.
It was not immediately clear if Michelle had posted. She is due back in court for a status conference on Oct. 19 followed by a preliminary hearing on Oct. 21.
We requested a jailhouse interview with Bastian but she declined to speak with us.
Thomas Bastian’s murder conviction
Thomas, who is originally from Mesa, was one of three men arrested in a murder-for-hire plot.
In October 2008, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Travis Hartline-Seffern, whose body was found in a parking lot near Scottsdale and Thomas roads on April 13, 2007.
Investigators believed Bastian, Jose Quintero-Figueroa and John Scott Harline-Seffern conspired to kill the victim to cash in on a $500,000 insurance policy that had been taken out about a month earlier. John Scott Harline-Seffern was the beneficiary of that policy.
He killed himself the day after the murder before police could serve a search warrant at his Mesa home.
Police believe Bastian drove Quintero-Figueroa to they lot where they met Travis Hartline-Seffern. They said Quintero-Figueroa then shot Travis Hartline-Seffern more than a dozen times.
All four men served time in prison. Bastian had convictions for violent drug offenses.
A judge considered a new trial for Bastian after his girlfriend at the time, not Michelle Blanchard, recanted testimony in which she said she knew details about the men’s plans.