Iowa Man Gets 37 Years in Mutual Fund Pipe Bomb Case

An Iowa man was sentenced to 37 years in prison for mailing bombs and threatening letters to mutual fund managers at Janus Capital Group Inc. and American Century Cos. in a bid to influence stock prices.

John Tomkins, 48, of Dubuque, who was convicted last May of 12 counts including possession of an unregistered explosive device, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow in Chicago. Tomkins acted as his own lawyer and testified at his two-week trial, admitting that he mailed the letters while disputing the prosecutors’ claim that he sent live pipe bombs to the mutual-fund companies.

Using the words “horrific” and “terrifying” to describe Tomkins’s crimes, Dow yesterday rejected the argument that the devices were intended only to frighten, saying the elements of a usable device were present and, with them, the risk of detonation.

The U.S. said Tomkins was seeking to influence share prices of 3Com Corp., a computer-networking equipment maker now part of Hewlett-Packard Co., and of Navarre Corp., a software distributor, from May 2005 to January 2007.

When threatening letters to securities firms failed 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.

Gunpowder, Pellets

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.

“Tomkins took these terrifying and secretive actions because he was greedy -- because he did not like the financial and life situation in which he found himself,” acting Chicago U.S. Attorney Gary S. Shapiro said in a statement after yesterday’s hearing. “To remedy those perceived problems, he decided to terrorize people to get what he wanted.”

Francis Lipuma, a Chicago lawyer who acted as standby defense counsel during the trial, took over the case for sentencing. After the hearing, he told reporters his client will appeal.

“Certainly, he had all the intent of scaring people,” Lipuma said. Causing physical harm or damage “was never within his mental state,” according to the lawyer.

Tomkins will get credit against his sentence for the six years he has been in custody since his arrest, Lipuma said.

Wife, Daughters

Tomkins’s wife, Julie, who was in court yesterday, declined to comment on the sentence. The couple has three daughters.

Investigators collected evidence from Tomkins’s car, home, computer and a storage locker tying him to the letters, as well as to the devices mailed to Janus and American Century. Investigators also found that Tomkins held stock in both 3Com and Navarre during the letter-writing campaign, the government said after last year’s verdict.

Some of the letters Tomkins sent were signed “the Bishop,” a moniker he told jurors was derived from a science-fiction novel 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.”

The sentencing took place on two non-consecutive days, the first being April 19.

Mental Illness

There is more to Tomkins than the Bishop persona, Lipuma told Dow then, arguing for leniency and describing his client as a family man and officer in his machinists’ union local who was a respected member of his community.

“John Tomkins isn’t evil,” Lipuma said, describing him as a man who suffered from mental illness and needed treatment.

Tomkins also spoke in court on April 19, telling Dow he was sorry for what he’d done. He said he struggled to believe he had done it.

“I never attempted to kill anyone,” said Tomkins, saying he deserved prison time. “I have never been one to be soft on crime and i’m not about to start now.”

The case is U.S. v. Tomkins, 07-cr-00227, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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