Iowa Man Convicted of Mailing Threats, Bombs to Firms

An Iowa man was convicted of mailing menacing letters to securities firms and pipe bombs to mutual-fund managers Janus Capital Group Inc. and American Century Cos. in a bid to drive up the value of stocks he owned.

John Tomkins, 47, of Dubuque, was found guilty today of all nine extortion counts, as well as three counts related to the bombs. Jurors deliberated for about two hours after Tomkins, acting as his own lawyer and witness, admitted during his two-week trial in federal court in Chicago that he sent the letters, while disputing prosecutors’ claim that he sent viable pipe bombs to the mutual-fund companies.

“We’re satisfied by the jury’s swift verdict in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Pope, the lead prosecutor, told reporters in the courthouse lobby. “We were confident the jury would see the evidence for what it was.”

Tomkins was accused of seeking to influence share prices for 3Com Corp., a computer-networking equipment maker now part of Hewlett-Packard Co., and for Navarre Corp., a software distributor, from May 2005 to January 2007. Tomkins pleaded not guilty after his arrest in 2007 and again when the indictment was revised in 2009.

“I didn’t get what I wanted and nothing happened, did it?” Tomkins testified during the trial. He told jurors he only meant to scare people into action and didn’t intend to injure anybody.

Francis Lipuma, the Chicago lawyer appointed by the court to assist Tomkins, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the verdict.

Pipe Bombs

When threatening letters to securities firms failed to spur them to drive the two companies’ shares to $6.66, Tomkins sent packages containing pipe bombs to Denver-based Janus and American Century offices in Kansas City, Missouri, with threatening notes in January 2007.

“They were not destructive devices,” Tomkins testified on May 3, tracking statutory language from the related charges, one of which carries a mandatory minimum 30-year sentence.

Tomkins didn’t complete the circuitry in the battery-powered devices, which contained gunpowder and shotgun pellets, before mailing one each to American Century and Janus.

Still, “the bombs were very real and they were terrifying,” Pope told the jury in his April 24 opening comments.

‘Reign of Terror’

Tom Brady, the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector in charge in Chicago, today called the crimes a “reign of terror” and said Tomkins’s arrest probably prevented him from mailing a live bomb.

“I believe at some point he would connected them,” Brady told reporters after the verdict.

The U.S. government collected evidence from Tomkins’s car, home, computer and a storage locker tying him to the letters, as well as the devices mailed to Janus and American Century from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, in January 2007, Pope told the jury. Investigators also found that Tomkins held stock in both 3Com and Navarre during the letter-writing campaign, Brady said.

Some of the letters Tomkins sent were signed, “the Bishop,” a moniker he told jurors was derived from a science fiction novel written by Harry Harrison. They also contained a phrase inspired by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost:” “It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

Sentencing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 6.

Tomkins was charged with nine counts of mailing threatening communications with intent to extort a thing of value, each punishable by as long as 20 years imprisonment. Two more counts were for possessing an unregistered destructive device, punishable by as long as 10 years in prison.

He also was accused of possessing and using a destructive device while committing a crime of violence, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and must be served consecutively with the sentence for any other conviction.

The case is U.S. v. Tomkins, 07-cr-227, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE