The Discount That Sent a Man To Prison

Asheville, NC., sits in the Blue Mountains, offering visitors hiking, camping, fishing, and more. It’s not surprising that it’s also home to a multi-story REI outdoor store. Not only do they sell a lot of stuff you would need if you were looking to spend a lot of leisure time outdoors, but they’re apparently good at identifying would-be terrorists. In 2017, authorities were alerted to a suspicious-looking item left unattended at Asheville Regional Airport. The bomb squad was called and, upon closer inspection, they discovered it was a backpack containing and IED made up of nails to serve as shrapnel, powered by ammonium nitrate, and set to go off on a timer. The FBI began to investigate by reviewing surveillance footage, but were only able to determine that the suspect was a white male wearing black clothing. The backpack was made by REI, but when the FBI visited the store, they discovered they didn’t have a surveillance tape. To add insult to injury, the suspect paid in cash. He did, however, make one mistake. REI has a member discount program — for a $30 annual fee, members get perks that include 10% back for all eligible purchases. Without thinking, the suspect had used his membership ID. The FBI managed to track down Michael Christopher Estes, who confessed to leaving the bomb at the airport. He pled guilty to one count of unlawful possession of an explosive and was sentenced to three years in prison and two years probation. It’s unclear whether REI gave him the 10% back for the backpack.