Letters to Air Force Base, Obama Seized in Ricin Probe

FBI agents investigating a Spokane, Washington, man charged with sending a letter containing the poison ricin to a federal judge said “similar letters” to President Barack Obama, the Central Intelligence Agency, a U.S. Air Force Base and the U.S. Post Office were seized or detected.

The letters to Obama and the Spokane post office were intercepted and found to contain active ricin toxin, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. FBI scientists today confirmed they found ricin in the letter to Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, while the letter to the CIA hasn’t been found, the FBI said.

“Active monitoring of the mail stream continues in an effort to locate this letter and mitigate any risk its contents might pose,” the FBI said, adding that it’s unlikely a member of the public would encounter it.

The FBI and the New York City Police Department are also investigating anonymous letters threatening Mayor Michael Bloomberg that tested positive for ricin. That probe is also examining similar correspondence to Obama and to Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Washington. Bloomberg is co-chairman of the coalition, which is a national bipartisan group of mayors, according to its website.

Person of Interest

Federal agents are questioning someone in New Boston, Texas, who is described as a person of interest in the ricin probe, said a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the information wasn’t public.

Katy Chaumont, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Dallas, said in a phone interview that no arrests have been made in Texas.

“The ricin matter is an ongoing investigation and a number of FBI offices are looking at this,” she said.

The letters sent to New York and Washington were postmarked in Shreveport, Louisiana, on May 20, according to a statement posted on the website of the American Postal Workers Union.

Matthew Ryan Buquet was charged May 22 with threatening U.S. District Judge Frederick Van Sickle in Spokane, in a letter sent with ricin. A total of five letters are now part of the investigation, the FBI in Spokane said in yesterday’s statement.

Mississippi Arrest

This month’s incidents in Spokane, New York and Washington follow the arrest of a Tupelo, Mississippi, man in April on charges of mailing ricin-laced letters to Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.

James Everett Dutschke was charged with producing a biological agent for use as a weapon. Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor, was arrested on April 27, four days after federal prosecutors dropped charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Mississippi. A lawyer for Curtis had told a federal judge during a court hearing that he may have been framed by Dutschke because the men had a long-running feud.

Ricin is made from castor beans and has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It’s harmful and potentially fatal if inhaled or ingested, according to the CDC.

The mayor of New York is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Bloomberg said he didn’t feel threatened or angered by the letters.

“In terms of why they’ve done it, I don’t know,” Bloomberg told reporters. “The letter obviously referred to our anti-gun efforts, but there’s 12,000 people that are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 that are going to commit suicide with guns, and we’re not going to walk away from those efforts. And I know I speak for all of the close-to 1,000 mayors in the Mayors’ Coalition Against Guns. This is a scourge on the country that we just have to make sure that we get under control and eliminate.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net; Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.