A former actress in Texarkana, Texas, who told federal agents her husband sent ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was charged with mailing threatening communications.
Shannon Guess Richardson, 35, admitted to “printing the mailing labels for the three letters and mailing the three letters –- knowing that they contained ricin,” James Spiropoulos, an FBI special agent, said in an affidavit filed yesterday with the complaint in Texarkana, Texas.
Richardson, of New Boston, Texas, was arrested by federal agents yesterday, according to an e-mailed statement by John M. Bales, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. Richardson “continued to deny” that she had ordered the castor beans used to create the ricin, and claims that her husband, Nathaniel Richardson, “typed the letters and made her print and mail them,” Spiropoulos said in his affidavit.
The case against Richardson is the third in less than two months involving letters with ricin sent to elected officials, including Obama.
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, including ones addressed to Obama, the Central Intelligence Agency and a U.S. Air Force base, are part of that investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said May 30.
James Everett Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor, was arrested in Mississippi on April 27 and charged with threatening the president by mail and developing, producing and possessing a biological agent as a weapon. Dutschke, 41, pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 5.
A resident of Tupelo, Dutschke was arrested four days after charges were dropped against a Corinth, Mississippi man whose initials were on letters sent to Obama, a U.S. senator and a state judge. That man’s lawyer, Christi McCoy, said in an April 22 preliminary hearing that Dutschke may have tried to frame her client.
The FBI and the New York City Police Department have been investigating anonymous letters threatening Obama and Bloomberg that tested positive for ricin. The letters sent to New York and Washington were postmarked May 20 in Shreveport, Louisiana, where mail from northeastern Texas is often handled.
The probe is also examining similar correspondence to a staff member at Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Washington. Bloomberg is co-chairman of the group.
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.
Richardson was remanded to custody yesterday after appearing at the federal courthouse in Texarkana. Prosecutors asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven to detain her as a flight risk who poses a danger to the community, according to a court filing. A detention hearing was set for June 14, according to court records.
“Fortunately, it appears no one was trying to kill or intended to kill the president or the mayor,” Tonda Curry, Richardson’s court-appointed lawyer, said in a phone interview. “Based on the evidence I’ve seen so far, there was a much different motivation than any public official’s death.”
Curry declined to comment further until she’s had the chance to review investigators’ interviews with her client.
The Richardsons first came under suspicion May 30, when Shannon told law enforcement officials in Shreveport that her husband “was responsible for mailing the recent letters containing ricin” sent to Obama, Bloomberg and the anti-gun organization, according to the FBI agent. Based on a partial book of postage she provided, FBI forensics analysts determined that stamps from that same book were used on all three of the tainted letters, which were mailed from the Texarkana area, which includes New Boston.
Agents received permission to conduct warrantless searches of the couple’s home and the husband’s car that same day. They removed castor beans, syringes, bulk lye and a number of suspicious unidentified substances from the home, along with computers containing online orders for those materials. Agents also retrieved a dozen loose castor beans from the trunk of the car.
Shannon Richardson initially told the FBI she feared her husband wanted to poison her. When agents questioned Nathanial Richardson on May 30 at the Red River Army Depot, where he works on an assembly line, he said his wife wanted to end their marriage and that “she was responsible for intentionally misleading investigators” about her role in the scheme.
The FBI re-interviewed Shannon a day later and determined “she had been deceptive via a polygraph examination” about her involvement in the scheme, according to the affidavit. When confronted, she said she had planted the castor beans near her husband’s golf cart and sprinkled ricin powder around his tools “to ensure that he would be apprehended.”
No castor beans were located near the golf cart, and all tools that were swabbed by the search team tested negative for ricin, according to the affidavit. Other materials found in the home tested positive for the toxin.
FBI analysts recovered computer files titled Obama.docx and muslimbastard.docx saved onto a removable storage device by a pink Dell laptop computer that belongs to and is used exclusively by Shannon, the agent said. These files contained the text of the mailing labels for the three letters as well as the text of the letter sent to Obama, according to the affidavit.
The two stored files were accessed from the pink laptop and from another computer in the couple’s home office shortly after 7 a.m. on May 20, the FBI said. That’s the same day the ricin-laced letters were mailed and when Nathaniel Richardson’s work schedule indicates he worked a 10-hour shift that began at 6:30 a.m., according to the agent’s statement.
Shannon Richardson, a mother of five sons, played small roles in the TV series “The Walking Dead” and “The Vampire Diaries,” along with parts in a half-dozen other TV shows and Hollywood films, according to her biography on the Internet Movie Database. She has both teaching and paralegal degrees, according to IMDB.com.
The case is U.S.A. v. Richardson, 5:13-cr-00014, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Texarkana).
To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org