A Utah man has been charged with sending a series of letters threatening to unleash the deadly poison ricin to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and several other top administration officials, CNN reports.
The man, a Navy veteran, reportedly confessed to law enforcement that he sent envelopes stuffed with the threatening letters and "ground up castor beans" (which can be turned into ricin if the poison is extracted correctly) "to the president, FBI director, secretary of Defense and the chief of Naval Operations," according to the Salt Lake Tribune, but pleaded not guilty to "five counts of mailing threats to officers and employees of the US."
The FBI says the man "knowingly threatened to use a biological agent and toxin, specifically ricin, as a weapon," even though he was not successful in extracting any actual ricin from the castor beans. He did confess to purchasing the beans and having sent the letters, according to the FBI's probable cause statement that accompanied the charges.
The suspect is well known to law enforcement. "According to Utah court records, in 2005, he was convicted on two counts of 3rd degree felony child abuse, a case that involved accusations of child-sex abuse of two girls. In 2008, [he] was convicted of attempted aggravated assault. He was released from prison in 2011." He also had a history of threats, having called in a bomb threat to a local Air Force base in 2017, and sent a threatening letter to Utah's governor the same year.
The Salt Lake Tribune says that early reports indicated both the White House and the Pentagon had received letters laced with ricin; the suspected poison was later found to be inert.
A mail sorting facility that screens letters destined for the Pentagon intercepted the letters destined for Mattis and the Chief of Naval Operations. A separate facility operated by the Centers for Disease Control intercepted the suspected ricin-laced letters headed to the White House.
FBI officials searched the man's home, looking for further evidence of ricin, but told reporters Friday that “no wider threat to public safety exists at this time.”
The man's arrest was overshadowed in week where a Florida man was arrested for sending at least 13 pipe bombs to various prominent Democrats and Democratic donors. That man engaged in a similar campaign of terror, mailing several suspected explosive devices to Democratic lawmakers and delivering at least two other packages by courier to the home of mega-donor George Soros and the New York City offices of CNN.
That man was arrested on Friday, the same day the Utah man appeared in court for his campaign of threats.