- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

A Rockville, Md. man apparently had a practical joke in mind when he sprinkled white powder around the office of a co-worker. It's not so funny now that he faces life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine after FBI agents arrested him for threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Anthony Salvatore Mancuso is the second person in the Washington area and the 20th in the country to be arrested on such federal charges.
President Bush yesterday said anthrax cases during recent weeks are "a second wave of terrorist attacks" on America.
"Those who believe this is an opportunity for a prank should know that sending false alarms is a serious criminal offense," Mr. Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "We will pursue anyone who tries to frighten their fellow Americans in this cruel way."
[In a related development, the Associated Press reported yesterday that Anthrax spores have been found at a third New Jersey postal facility. A sample taken by the FBI at the Bellmawr mail distribution facility came back positive for anthrax, authorities said.]
Mr. Mancuso was charged Friday with sprinkling the white powder believed by authorities to be bleached flour around his workplace late at night. He told law enforcement agents that the incident was meant as a "joke."
Federal prosecutors say U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has instructed them to throw the book at Mr. Mancuso and other anthrax hoaxsters such as Sharon Ann Watson, a Stafford, Va., postal worker who appeared in Alexandria federal Court Thursday on charges she sprinkled baby powder on open mail at the post office where she works.
"We are going to go after these people," Mr. Ridge said at an Oct. 18 White House roundtable. "I hope we throw them in jail, and we ought to throw away the key."
Miss Watson told FBI agents she spread powder because she felt post office management wasn't taking anthrax seriously enough, court documents say.
She now faces up to 25 years behind bars on felony charges of threatening communications and tampering with mail.
The justice system so far is showing little patience with people who cause anthrax hoaxes. Since mid-October, the Postal Inspection Service has received more than 8,600 hoax threats or reports of incidents related to anthrax. That's an average of 578 a day for an agency more accustomed to dealing with a few hundred such calls a year, said postal spokesman Dan Mihalko.
Beside the Mancuso and Watson cases, several others nationwide are moving toward federal courtrooms.
In Connecticut, a state environmental agency worker is charged with making false statements after he reported finding a powdery substance near his workstation.
Authorities say Joseph Faryniarz, 48, of Coventry, didn't tell the FBI the substance wasn't anthrax. If convicted, he faces up to five years in federal prison and $3 million in fines, double the cost of closing the agency for two days.
In Kentucky, Murray State University students Amy Wood, 22, of Benton, and Erin Creighton, 21, of Morganfield, each faces a charge of mailing a threatening communication, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Authorities believe the two mailed a letter with Arabic-looking writing and powdered sugar to a friend. Postal operations were halted temporarily after the contents leaked onto a postal clerk.
"Prosecutors want to grab these initial hoaxers and effectively hoist the wretch for all the other potential hoaxers to see," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
"The basic description of the charge [against Mr. Mancuso] is threatening the use of a weapon of mass destruction," said a federal prosecutor close to the Mancuso case. "The language includes threatening the use of a biological agent."
Mr. Mancuso put a "malicious, wasteful and dangerous" burden on his colleagues at the offices of Financial Initial Systems at 111200 Rockville Pike, where he sprinkled the powder, the U.S. Attorney's Maryland District office said in a statement.
"The business was shut down, the whole operation was halted and the result was seriously disruptive," a federal prosecutor said.
A possible anthrax hoax has kept many on edge in the Glen Echo area of Bethesda since a plastic bag of white powder was found on the dashboard of an unlocked car Friday afternoon. Authorities said they expect test results of the powder to come back tomorrow.
Mr. Turley separates the pranksters into two categories: "dim-witted" jokesters who essentially mean no harm, and malicious people who would spread anthrax if they could.
"Prosecutors are very good at drawing the distinction between the guy who is just stupid," said Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County, Mo. "You have to be able to distinguish that from the guy who is truly malicious."
For his part, Mr. McCulloch, representing the National District Attorneys Association, favors throwing the book at all pranksters, regardless of intent.
Judges should have some discretion in sentencing because the prescribed punishments may be too harsh, said Martin Pinales, secretary of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, whose Cincinnati law firm represents Jonathan Silz, an Ohio man accused of sending his boss white powder.
Anthrax scares have also rattled countries in Europe and Asia. In Europe, thousands of scares have turned out to be false alarms, malicious hoaxes or pranks that have backfired.
In Pakistan, government officials appeared in confusion yesterday about reported anthrax attacks, with President Pervez Musharraf confirming two incidents but seemed unaware that an official statement had already expressed doubts that they were little more than a hoax.
News of the hoaxes comes as the real biological attack on America has killed four and infected 13 others nationwide and as federal investigators chase "as many as 1,000 leads," according to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
In Trenton, N.J., Friday, FBI agents wearing hazardous materials suits raided an apartment, seizing bags of materials and taking one man in for questioning.
But investigators have made little progress explaining how a 61-year-old New York hospital worker, unconnected with mail-handling activities, contracted respiratory anthrax and died.
CDC officials said the anthrax that killed Kathy T. Nguyen was identical to that sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and New York news outlets, suggesting she was infected by spores that leaked from the known anthrax-laced letters during mail processing.
Environmental tests continued into the weekend at 259 postal facilities around the country. Four Food and Drug Administration mailrooms in Rockville joined the growing list of contaminated sights Thursday and in Florida, a sixth post office tested positive.
In Kansas City, the Stamp Fulfillment Center was closed after the CDC confirmed patches of anthrax were found on a trash container.
The center received a shipment Oct. 19 of 7,000 pieces of mail from Brentwood, that earlier processed the anthrax-laced letter sent to Mr. Daschle and where two employees died of inhalation anthrax.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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