PORTLAND – An Alfred man who is charged with making pipe bombs and growing 100 marijuana plants in his basement is challenging the legality of the search of his home.

Robert Infante claims the search violated his constitutional rights and the evidence gathered by investigators should be ruled inadmissible at his upcoming trial. Infante also wants a federal judge to toss out the statements he made while he was in a hospital being treated for wounds caused by an explosion.

Federal prosecutors say the interview of Infante and the search of his home were legal.

The issue is expected to be considered by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rich at a suppression hearing Dec. 2. No date has been set for the trial.

Infante called 911 on the morning of June 25 from his home on Avery Road to report that a small propane tank had exploded and his left hand was injured. He asked for an ambulance, but later told the dispatcher that he was going to drive himself to the hospital.

He was pulling out of Avery Road when an ambulance approached. Infante got out and told the paramedic that he had been filling a butane lighter when it exploded, blowing off part of his left middle finger. He opted to drive himself to Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford.

In the meantime, several firefighters from Alfred arrived at Infante’s home. They popped out a screen in a door and entered the house. In the basement, the firefighters found blood on a workbench and about 12 pipe bombs in various stages of construction.

Investigators say they also found more than 100 marijuana plants, grow lights and other equipment.

The firefighters contacted officials with the Maine State Police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who applied for warrants to search the home. Agents later searched Infante’s car in the hospital parking lot. The state police bomb squad retrieved five pipe bombs from the vehicle.

According to a court affidavit by ATF agent Paul McNeil, Infante told an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office that he has a fascination with pipe bombs, and that he injured himself when he dropped a bottle filled with explosive powder.

During the recorded interview at the hospital, Infante also made incriminating statements about the marijuana-growing operation.

A grand jury indicted Infante in U.S. District Court in July. He faces charges of marijuana manufacturing, possession of a destructive device, possession of a destructive device in relation to drug trafficking, possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking, and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Infante’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender J. Hilary Billings, filed the motions seeking to suppress the results of the search and interview.

There are four categories of “exigent circumstances” that would have justified the firefighters’ entry into the home without a warrant, Billings wrote. Those categories are:

“Hot pursuit” of a felon into a residence.

Imminent destruction of evidence within a residence.

A potential escape by a suspect from inside the residence.

Imminent threat to the life or safety of members of the public, police officers or a person inside the residence.

Billings argues that the search was unlawful because none of those circumstances existed.

“Without exigent circumstances, all of the observations of the firefighters, and the photographs they took, are tainted by the violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of the defendant,” Billings wrote.

Regarding the interview, Billings claims that Infante was essentially in custody and was not given a Miranda warning. Billings also said the investigator, Daniel Young of the Fire Marshal’s Office, continued to interview Infante after he had invoked his right to a lawyer.

The prosecutor, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Neumann, said in court documents that it would have been absurd for the firefighters to respond to a report of an explosion and not check the house.

“The fire department personnel in the present case were entitled to enter the defendant’s home based on the exigent circumstances at hand,” Neumann wrote. “Specifically, the fire department had information that the defendant had seriously injured himself in a ‘propane explosion.’

“They entered his home to determine whether or not there was indeed a continuing fire, a potential for another explosion, or injured person or persons or property otherwise at risk.”

Neumann also disputes Infante’s version of the interview conducted by Young at the hospital. She said Young continued to speak with Infante only after he had agreed to do so without a lawyer present.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

[email protected]