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Mississippi man charged in ricin-tainted mailings to Obama, senator

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2013

Federal authorities charged a Mississippi man on Thursday with threatening to harm President Obama and a U.S. senator, saying he is the person who tried to send letters laced with the poison ricin to the White House and Capitol Hill.

The FBI arrested Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, at his residence in Corinth on Wednesday. Letters laced with ricin and addressed to Mr. Obama and Sen. Roger F. Wicker were detected this week at the off-site White House and Senate mail facilities.

The suspect wore shackles and a Johnny Cash T-shirt when he appeared in an Oxford, Miss., federal courtroom Thursday. His handcuffs were taken off for the brief hearing, and he said little.

The judge said a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing are scheduled for Friday. If convicted, Mr. Curtis faces up to 15 years in prison, $500,000 in fines and three years of supervised release.

The suspect's attorney, Christi R. McCoy, told reporters that Mr. Curtis "maintains 100 percent that he did not do this." She said she hasn't decided whether to seek a hearing to determine whether Mr. Curtis is mentally competent to stand trial.

In an affidavit, investigators said they linked Mr. Curtis to the letters after asking Mr. Wicker's office staff if they previously had received any similar mail.

The office came up with several communications they said were sent by Mr. Curtis that used the phrase: "this is Kevin Curtis and I approve this message." The letter to Mr. Wicker this week used a similar phrase: "I am KC and I approve this message."

Investigators said that in Internet postings and other communications, Mr. Curtis repeatedly talked about a book he said he was writing about black-market body parts, titled "Missing Pieces" — another key phrase found in the ricin-laced letters this week.

Judge Sadie Holland of the Lee County Justice Court received a similar letter, the investigators said. They said that letter contained a "suspicious granular substance" that appeared to be similar to the ricin in the letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Wicker.

The FBI confirmed Thursday evening that the Obama and Wicker letters had tested positive for ricin, but tests were still ongoing on the Holland note.

The letters were postmarked April 8 in Memphis, Tenn., with no return address.

All three letters contained the same message: "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. This must stop. To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance. I am KC and I approve this message."

The FBI said nothing suggests a connection between the letters and Monday's bomb attacks in Boston.

Mr. Wicker told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday that he met the suspect several years ago when Mr. Curtis was hired to perform as an Elvis impersonator at a party he and his wife and helped give for a couple getting married.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Curtis had been investigated several times by police in Booneville, Miss. Police there said his ex-wife reported he was "extremely delusional, anti-government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones."

"He is bipolar, and the only thing I can say is he wasn't on his medicine," his ex-wife, Laura Curtis, told The Associated Press.

Ricin, naturally found in castor beans, can be fatal if ingested, inhaled or absorbed. Ricin poisoning has no known antidote and is difficult to detect as a cause of death.

The letters were among several pieces of suspicious mail reported by senators this week at Capitol and state offices.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said Thursday that tests on a suspicious letter sent to one of his state offices showed no signs that it was contaminated with poison.

"I have been advised by the FBI that preliminary testing by the Michigan Department of Community Health, Micro-Biology Laboratory in Lansing (Mich.) showed negative results," he said. His Saginaw office, which had been closed Wednesday when the letter was discovered, has reopened.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said suspicious letters at his Phoenix office had been cleared with nothing dangerous found. A package at Sen. John Cornyn's Dallas-area office also was declared harmless.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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