Extortion Trial Begins Over Janus, American Century Bombs
An Iowa man accused of sending unarmed bombs and menacing letters to mutual-fund companies Janus Capital Group Inc. (JNS) and American Century Cos. went on trial for extortion in federal court in Chicago.
John P. Tomkins, of Dubuque, was arrested in 2007 for allegedly mailing parcels to a Janus fund in Denver and to American Century in Kansas City, Missouri, containing pipe bombs and letters saying, “BANG!! YOU’RE DEAD.”
He is also accused of sending threatening letters to other investment management firms instructing them to drive up the value of two public companies and warning of dire consequences if they failed.
“This is a case about a man who wanted money and who terrorized people in order to get it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Pope told the jury yesterday. “When he didn’t get it, the defendant grew bolder and the threats got worse.”
Tomkins, 47, is accused of seeking to influence share prices for 3Com Corp., a maker of computer-networking equipment, and Navarre Corp. (NAVR), a software distributor, from May 2005 to January 2007.
He pleaded not guilty after his arrest and again in 2009 after prosecutors obtained a revised indictment. Acting as his own attorney, Tomkins made no opening statement yesterday.
He did cross-examine each of the five witnesses prosecutors called after Pope made his opening statement.
No Janus or American Century representatives testified today. Those who did came from four other firms that received letters prosecutors attribute to Tomkins.
“You have been selected to help with a project,” said a 2005 letter identified by William F. D’Alonzo, chief executive officer of Wilmington, Delaware-based investment adviser Friess Associates LLC.
The letter writer set an Oct. 31, 2005, deadline for Friess to drive 3Com stock to $6.66 a share.
“You will help. After all, its so easy to kill somebody,” the author said, signing the letter, “The Bishop.”
D’Alonzo said he first took the missive for a joke, then read it again and opted to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
On cross-examination, the executive told Tomkins his firm also elected to contact the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and 3Com, now part of Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ)
A 2006 letter, identified today by Wallace Weitz, principal of Omaha-based Wallace R. Weitz & Co., demanded that his firm drive Navarre shares to $6.66 by May 1.
“It must be done by then,” the sender wrote. “No excuses.”
The U.S. government collected evidence from Tomkins’s car, home, computer and a storage locker tying him to those mailings, as well as the explosive devices mailed to Janus and American Century from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, in January 2007, Pope told the jury in his opening.
“The device was determined to be technically functional, but the firing circuit was not fully connected,” U.S. Postal Inspector Kevin Freeman said in an April 2007 sworn statement supporting the initial criminal complaint. “Had a partially disconnected wire been connected to the device’s battery, the device would have instantly exploded.”
‘Keep People Safe’
“If you decide you want to keep the people around you safe, you will do as I say,” the sender said in notes to American Century (ACITX) and Janus executives packaged with each bomb.
Tomkins is charged with nine counts of allegedly mailing threatening communications with intent to extort a thing of value, each punishable by as long as 20 years imprisonment. Two more counts are for possessing an unregistered destructive device punishable by as long as 10 years in prison.
He is also 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.
Selection of the jury of 10 men and six women, four of whom are alternates who may not participate in deliberations, began April 23 before U.S. District Judge Robert Dow.
The case is U.S. v. Tomkins, 07cr227, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
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