April 28 (Bloomberg) -- A Tupelo, Mississippi owner of a martial-arts studio was charged in connection with the mailing of letters containing ricin, a deadly poison, to President Barack Obama and a Republican U.S. senator.
The arrest early yesterday of J. Everett Dutschke, 41, follows the government’s April 23 dismissal of charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Mississippi, who was initially accused in a probe of the matter.
Dutschke was taken into custody without incident, according to the FBI. He is charged with knowingly developing, producing and possessing a biological agent for use as a weapon, said U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams of the Northern District of Mississippi. Dutschke faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.
Christi McCoy, an attorney for Curtis, said in an April 22 preliminary hearing in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, that her client may have been framed for the mailings by Dutschke, with whom Curtis had a long-running e-mail feud.
Curtis was arrested earlier this month after envelopes allegedly sent to Obama, a Democrat, and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker were intercepted April 16 and found to contain “a suspicious granular substance” that tested positive for ricin. The letters were signed “I am KC and I approve this message,” according to the criminal complaint.
The case against Curtis fell apart after an FBI agent testified at a preliminary hearing that searches failed to turn up any trace of ricin at Curtis’s home, as well as in his vehicle and the homes of his ex-wife and parents. An analysis of his personal computer also found nothing related to ricin, agent Brandon Grant said. Federal scrutiny quickly turned to Dutschke.
The letters to Obama and Wicker were postmarked April 8 and both read in part: “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still ‘Missing Pieces’ Maybe I have your attention now Even if that means someone must die.”
Dutschke is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander in Oxford federal court tomorrow, according to Adams.
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.
At a press conference after Curtis’s release from custody, McCoy said the idea that he was framed is “very diabolical, very frightening.”
Curtis, who said he loves his country and would never threaten the president, stated he will return to performing, aiding his favorite charity --the Save A Life Foundation -- and finding a publisher for his book, “Missing Pieces,” a novel he said exposes a black-market in human body parts.
Curtis and Dutschke have known each other for many years and Dutschke at one point had a business relationship with Curtis’s brother, McCoy said at the hearing.
McCoy told Judge Alexander that the dispute between Curtis and Dutschke was over “who is the biggest liar and is putting false information on their website.”
She said Dutschke was arrested this year on child molestation charges and may have thought Curtis was somehow involved with “the girls coming forward” to authorities.
Dutschke was indicted on three counts of child molestation by the Lee County grand jury, according to state court records in Tupelo. The incidents involving fondling of minor girls allegedly occurred from 2007 to this year, according to the indictment. He faces two to 15 years in prison on each count if convicted.
After Curtis’s release from custody last week, the FBI searched Dutschke’s home and business. Several phone calls to Dutschke’s home weren’t answered and no one came to the front door when a reporter visited on April 24.
Dutschke’s attorney, Lori Nail Basham of Fulton, Mississippi, didn’t respond to messages left on her office answering machine today and earlier this week.
Inquiries with Senator Wicker’s staff turned up previous letters to his Washington office with the sign-off “this is Kevin Curtis and I approve this message,” according to court papers.
A third, similar letter with a suspicious substance was sent on April 8 to a judge in Lee County, where Curtis lives, the agents said in the affidavit.
All three letters, which had no return address, were on yellow paper and bore Memphis, Tennessee, postmarks, the agents said. Letters sent from northern Mississippi, usually bear a Memphis postmark, according to the affidavit.
Ricin poisoning symptoms depend on the purity, route of exposure and the dose. Initial symptoms from inhalation occur as early as four to six hours after the exposure, and include difficulty breathing and a cough, according to the CDC.
The symptoms can progress rapidly to fluid within the lungs and eventually respiratory failure. Deaths from the poison usually happen within 36 to 72 hours. While no antidote exists, doctors can counteract the effects of the poisoning by helping victims breathe or giving them fluids.
The Curtis case is U.S. v. Curtis, 13-mj-00019, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).
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