Three men were charged on Wednesday in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 260, federal prosecutors said.
Two of the suspects — Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 19 and of Kazakhstan — were pictured with Boston bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Times Square in New York last year.
The men, who shared an apartment in New Bedford, Mass., about 60 miles south of Boston, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice by plotting to dispose of a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks belonging to Tsarnaev, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.
They were arrested and jailed 11 days ago by immigration officials, according to prosecutors.
The other man, Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge, Mass., is an American citizen and a roommate of Tsarnaev while they attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, prosecutors said.
He graduated from the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Tsarnaev, authorities said.
Phillipos was charged with making false statements to law enforcement officials in a terrorism investigation, prosecutors said. He was arrested on Wednesday.
Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev face maximum sentences of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while Phillipos faces a maximum sentence of eight years and a $250,000 fine, prosecutors said.
At a brief initial appearance on Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Boston, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev waived their right to a bail hearing. They will appear in court again May 14.
In a separate hearing, Phillipos also waived his right to a bail hearing. Another hearing was scheduled in his case for Monday.
Lawyers for the men said after the hearing that their clients were not involved in the April 15 bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“He had no knowledge of the incident,” said Derege Demissie, Philppos attorney. “As to the actual charge of misrepresentation of what these individuals did or not do, we look forward to litigating that in court.”
“I believe the citizens of Boston can fairly and accurately listen to the rules of law and give someone a fair trial, at least at this moment in time,” said Robert Stahl, who represents Kadyrbayev.
Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev, and Phillipos all began attending UMass together at the same time in 2011, The Boston Globe reports.
According to court documents, the trio told investigators that Kadyrbaev removed Tsarnaev’s backpack, which contained fireworks that had been opened and emptied of gunpowder, from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room on the evening of April 18, shortly after the FBI released photos of the two bombing suspects.
Phillipos said that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev “started to freak out” when they realized while watching news reports that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombings, according to court documents.
He said he didn’t understand much of what they were saying because they were speaking in Russian.
Kadyrbayev told investigators that when he saw the suspects’ photographs on television, he thought one of them looked like Tsarnaev, according to court documents. When he sent Tsarnaev a text message about it, Tsarnaev responded, “lol.”
Kadyrbayev decided to remove the backpack from Tsarnaev’s room “to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble,” court documents said.
Kadyrbayev allegedly later threw the backpack in a dumpster at the New Bedford apartment complex where Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov lived.
The backpack was taken away by a garbage truck, but was recovered last week inside a black garbage bag by the FBI at a New Bedford landfill, court documents said.
The affidavit also alleged that Phillipos changed his story, saying at first that he had never gone to Tsarnaev’s dorm room — but then admitting in a fourth interview that the three had gone to the room and taken the backpack.
He said he had discussed with the other two what to do with the backpack but had fallen asleep and, upon awaking, discovered the backpack was gone.
The backpack, when it was found, contained fireworks, a jar of vaseline, a UMass-Darmouth homework assignment sheet from one of Tsarnaev’s classes, and other items, court documents said.
Kadyrbayev told investigators he decided to take Tsarnaev’s laptop because he did not want Tsarnaev’s roommate, who was there when the trio stopped by, to think he was stealing or behaving suspiciously by just taking the backpack, according to documents.
It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the laptop computer.
The FBI searched Tsarnaev’s dorm room several days later — finding BBs, a large pyrotechnic and a black jacket and white hat matching those worn by one of the two bombing suspects in surveillance footage, the affidavit said.
Tsarnaev, who was arrested April 19 after an intense manhunt, is facing federal charges of using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in an overnight confrontation with police in Watertown earlier that day as the two tried to flee the area. Police say they were trying to subdue him after the shootout when his brother ran him over in a desperate escape.
Authorities say the Tsarnaevs also killed MIT police officer Sean Collier as they tried to escape. No charges have yet been filed in that case.
Meanwhile, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was being held at a prison hospital outside Boston on Wednesday. He was being for gunshot wounds to the neck and leg sustained in the police shootout that killed his brother.
Earlier on Wednesday, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev appeared before a Federal Immigration Judge Steven F. Day on charges that they overstayed their student visas.
The men appeared via videoconference, wearing prison scrubs, from the Suffolk County jail, the Globe reports. The consul of Kazakhstan, other representatives, as well as U.S. government officials were in the court.
A UMass official told the Globe that Kadyrbayev was no longer enrolled in school, while Tazhayakov was still attending classes.
Lawyers for the men said at the hearing that they had cooperated with Homeland Security and FBI investigators for hours and were only college buddies with Tsarnaev and should be released, the Globe reports.
Questions also arose at the immigration hearing about why the men were allowed to stay in the United States if their visas were allegedly invalid.
Kadyrbayev, who had studied engineering, was dismissed from UMass, but he stayed in the United States, the Globe reports.
His lawyers argued that he should be allowed to leave the United States voluntarily. A hearing on Kadyrbayev’s case will be held on May 22.
Tazhayakov, who was an economics major, had his visa terminated on Jan. 4 by UMass because of low grades, but he was allowed to reenter the country on Jan. 20 in New York, Judge Day said during the hearing.
The discrepancy puzzled the judge. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, the Globe reports.
Day set a bail hearing for Tazhayakov for May 9.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov got around in a car registered to Kadyrbayev with a souvenir plate that read “Terrorista (hash)1.” The car was pictured on Tsarnaev's Twitter page in March.
The plate was a gag gift from some of Kadyrbayev's friends, meant to invoke his penchant for late-night partying rather than his political sentiments, a lawyer for Kadyrbayev said last week.
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News also contributed to this report.
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