A former Cornell student has admitted to possessing an illegally modified rifle, a makeshift bomb and other weapons and tactical gear in his Collegetown apartment in the spring.
Maximilien R. Reynolds ’19 pleaded guilty Tuesday to two federal felony charges, admitting that he gave another student money last year to buy an AR-15-style rifle and that he possessed unregistered firearms. Prosecutors said each offense carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick said Wednesday that Reynolds, who is 21, also admitted to possessing a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol “with an obliterated serial number” that New York State Police divers found in the Cayuga Inlet in April.
Reynolds’ lawyer, Raymond Schlather J.D. ’76, said in a statement to The Sun on Wednesday that his client had “no plan, no target, no threats, no anger, and no intent to cause harm to himself or to anyone else.”
“At all times, due to his emerging mental illness, Mr. Reynolds was acting defensively and in protection of his family and self,” Schlather said. “Fortunately, Mr. Reynolds now is able to understand and to accept his responsibility. He, his family and his many sympathetic friends and supporters, look forward to appropriate treatment under Court supervision.”
In March, after Reynolds’ arrest, Schlather said Reynolds had been diagnosed with schizoaffective bipolar disorder with paranoid features and had “a huge paranoia of the world beyond him and protecting himself from that world.”
Southwick said Wednesday that prosecutors had not uncovered a motive for Reynolds’ possession of the weapons and gear.
“To date, we have not been able to determine what if any purpose he had in acquiring this stuff,” Southwick said in an interview. Southwick said that any time someone has “this kind of lethal weaponry” near a college campus or in a city, “it’s a dangerous situation.”
People who knew Reynolds told The Sun after the arrest that Reynolds was funny and kind, but had paranoid streaks that left him fearful he or his sister would be attacked. One Cornell professor said Reynolds had “good days and bad days,” and several people said they feared they had underestimated the extent of his mental illness.
A U.S. District Court judge wrote in an August ruling that Reynolds’ competency “has been restored” following treatment at a Bureau of Prisons medical center in Massachusetts.
Following the FBI’s arrest of Reynolds, who is from Rumson, New Jersey, investigators said they had found a cache of weapons and survival gear in his eighth-floor apartment on Dryden Road in Collegetown, which sits 500 feet from Cornell’s campus. Reynolds had been taking classes at Tompkins-Cortland Community College after Cornell placed him on academic leave at the end of the fall 2016 semester.
Prosecutors said Reynolds agreed this week to surrender 917 rounds of rifle ammunition, 135 rounds of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition, several magazines for the rifle, two bullet-proof vests, a homemade gun silencer, a laser sight, a gas mask, chemicals, a flare gun, ball bearings and more items that were seized from his Collegetown Plaza apartment and a storage unit in nearby Caroline.
Investigators previously said that in Reynolds’ apartment, they had found a 4-inch-long mortar firework designed to be shot in the air from a launch tube. They said shotgun pellets had been taped to its exterior that could act as shrapnel, which could inflict “injury or death,” making it a destructive device under federal law.
Reynolds had originally been charged with four federal felonies. He is currently in the custody of U.S. Marshals waiting for a sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to take place next March in Albany.
Police became aware of Reynolds’ cache in the spring after an Ithaca Walmart employee alerted authorities that Reynolds had used a gift card to buy ammunition, camping gear, knives and other items the employee deemed suspicious.
“What started as a tip from a citizen at a local business about some suspicious behavior led to an alarming discovery,” Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler said in March.
Investigators then spoke to Reynolds’ girlfriend, who had said that he had been manic, was not getting enough sleep and was no longer taking medications, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in the spring.
Reynolds was taken to Cayuga Medical Center and given a psychiatric evaluation. He had previously been detained in June of 2016 by Ithaca Police under a law that allows police to detain people who appear mentally ill and pose a danger to themselves and others.
The ATF agent said Reynolds, in November of 2017, paid another student $1,000 to purchase a rifle for him and gave the man another $200 as a fee. That “straw purchase” is the basis of one of the two felonies to which Reynolds pleaded guilty. Prosecutors also said Reynolds had sawed off the end of the Savage MSR-15 rifle.
Reynolds studied plant sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and had lived in the apartment at 111 Dryden Road for about two years, a neighbor said in the spring.
A Cornell spokesperson said Wednesday that the University had no comment on Reynolds’ guilty plea.
Southwick praised the police agencies who worked on the case, which included the FBI, ATF, State Police, Ithaca Police Department and Cornell Police Department.
“It’s very fortunate that no one got hurt here … including the defendant,” Southwick said.