Three men have been charged with impeding a federal investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings in allegations that would seem to blend criminality with teenage stupidity.
After realizing that their college friend was being sought by police in connection with the April 15 attack, the three sought to discard evidence to help their friend “avoid trouble,” according to court documents filed Wednesday.
By that time, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was already in more than the usual amount of trouble for a 19-year-old.
And the new criminal complaint against them also may shed new light on Mr. Tsarnaev’s interest in bombmaking. Previous news accounts have widely portrayed his older brother as the mastermind of the attacks, but the complaint says that two of the friends heard the younger Tsarnaev say, a month before the attacks, that he knew how to make bombs.
The document also quotes one of the friends saying that Tsarnaev appeared to have cut his hair short when the two saw each other on the campus the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth on April 17, two days after the bombing. The timing of that apparent effort at a changed appearance is significant; the next day the FBI made photos of the bombing suspects public.
The criminal charges made public Wednesday do not allege that any of the three newly arrested men were involved in the bombings or knew about any plans. But these men could potentially face years in prison for obstructing justice.
Mr. Kadyrbayev and Mr. Tazhayakov, who are Kazakhstan nationals studying in the US, have been held in jail for more than a week on allegations that they violated their student visas. Now they are charged with conspiring to destroy, conceal, and cover up tangible objects belonging to the suspected bomber. That could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison and $250,000 fine.
Mr. Phillipos, a US citizen residing in Cambridge, Mass., is charged with “willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation.” That carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The complaint, written by FBI Special Agent Scott Cieplik, alleges that on the night of April 18, after the investigators released photos of the bombing suspects and asked the public for help finding them, the three men suspected their friend was one of the bombers. They went to Tsarnaev's dorm room, where his roommate let them in. While there they found a backpack containing fireworks, which had been opened and emptied of powder.
According to the FBI account, Kadyrbayev said he knew when he saw the empty fireworks that his friend was involved in the bombings and decided to remove the backpack from the room "in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble." He also saw a jar of Vaseline in the room, and identified it to his friends as a bombmaking material, the complaint says.
They removed the backpack, the Vaseline, and Tsarnaev's laptop, the document says, and all three friends agreed the materials should be disposed of. Phillipos said that after talking about that course of action, he took a two hour nap, “and when he woke up, the backpack was gone,” according to the document.
Kadyrbayev allegedly placed the backpack in a black garbage bag and dropped it in a dumpster.
The backpack was later recovered at after a painstaking search of a nearby landfill. So far there’s no official word about the laptop. The contents of the backpack included a homework sheet for a University of Massachusetts class in which Tsarnaev was enrolled.
Defense attorneys for the three denied the key allegations Wednesday, arguing that the young men didn’t intend to obstruct justice. They said their clients had nothing to do with the bombing and were just as shocked by the crime as everyone else.
Phillipos's attorney, Derege Demissie, said outside court: "The only allegation is he made a misrepresentation."
At a court appearance in the afternoon, the Kazakh students did not request bail and will be held for another hearing May 14. Phillipos was held for a hearing on Monday.
The April 15 bombings killed three people and injured more than 260. Mr. Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, died after a gunfight with police days later. His younger brother was captured and is being held at a prison hospital.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.