- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Federal authorities yesterday indicted three persons in the beginning of a crackdown on anthrax hoaxes nationwide, while the FBI continued its criminal investigation into exposures of the bacteria from Florida, New York and Nevada.
The first indictment handed down yesterday named Connecticut state worker Joseph Faryniarz in an anthrax hoax described by Attorney General John Ashcroft as "no joking matter" an incident that cost taxpayers $1.5 million and could land the employee in prison for five years.
In the other cases, a second Connecticut man was charged with threatening use of a weapon of mass destruction when he phoned in threats to police, and a Utah man was charged with falsely claiming he received a letter containing anthrax.
Mr. Ashcroft said the Justice Department is working with state and local officials across the country to prosecute additional hoaxes. Since Oct. 1, the FBI has received more than 2,300 reports involving anthrax or other dangerous agents, the overwhelming majority of which have proven to be false alarms.
"It should be painfully obvious to every American today that the threat of bioterrorism is no joking matter. These acts are serious violations of the law and grotesque transgressions of the public trust," he said. "Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes, but are the destructive acts of cowards."
In the District, police said the number of hoaxes to which they had responded had stretched its available resources. A Florida inmate was accused of sending out letters threatening anthrax infections and faces 75 years in prison. In Georgia, a suspicious powdery substance discovered by a railroad worker beside CSX train tracks turned out to be someone's remains that had been spread along the tracks.
Yesterday's indictment accused Mr. Faryniarz of making false statements in connection with an anthrax hoax.
He is accused of telling security guards at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection where he worked he had found a powdery substance on a paper towel near his computer with the word "Anthax" written on it.
Mr. Faryniarz, according to the indictment, knew the Oct. 11 incident was a hoax, but stood silent as 800 employees were evacuated and 12 were forced to disrobe and were washed down with a decontamination solution. The indictment said he lied to FBI agents repeatedly and attempted to implicate co-workers before confessing.
"As this case demonstrates, false threats of anthrax and other terrorist attacks carry high costs for consumers and taxpayers," Mr. Ashcroft said, noting that a two-day evacuation of the state offices necessitated by the hoax cost taxpayers $1.5 million.
During a press conference, Mr. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III also said investigators have not found any "conclusive evidence" tying the anthrax exposures nationwide to the 19 Middle Eastern men who hijacked four jetliners and crashed three into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or to others involved in the attack.
"While we have not ruled out linkage to the terrorist attack of September 11 or the perpetrators of that attack, we do not have conclusive evidence that would provide a basis for a conclusion that it is a part of that terrorist endeavor," Mr. Ashcroft said.
But the attorney general warned that the Justice Department viewed the sending of anthrax-laced letters with the intent to hurt people as an act of terrorism and that it would be treated as such.
"Make no mistake about it: When people send anthrax through the mail to hurt people and to invoke terror, it's a terrorist act. And we treat it as an act of terror and terrorism," he said.
In the second Connecticut warrant, Fred Forcellina was accused of calling the Fairfield police and threatening to use biological agents against three courthouses.
According to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent involved in the case, Mr. Forcellina told police yesterday that the destruction of three Connecticut courthouses was in retaliation for what the United States had done "to our people."
The affidavit quoted Mr. Forcellina as saying his people had been bombed and "now we are doing a silent warfare. This is not a hoax. And I'm telling you that three of your symbols of justice have been dusted."
In the Utah case, Terry Olson, 29, is accused of placing sugar and chocolate powder in an envelope himself and then calling police Saturday and saying it was anthrax, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in Salt Lake City said.
His house and a neighbor's were sealed and people were taken to a local hospital to undergo detoxification procedures.
"We anticipate additional charges will be filed after the grand jury meets," spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said. "He eventually confessed to agents he didn't mean anybody harm."
In Washington, Mr. Mueller said FBI agents were taking every threat seriously and are investigating exposures in Florida, New York, Washington, D.C., Nevada and "elsewhere around the country." He said every threat received a full response and the FBI had "no choice but to assume that each reported instance is an actual biothreat."
Mr. Mueller also said that while no direct link had been established between the anthrax scares and organized terrorism, there were "certain similarities" between letters sent to NBC in New York and to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
The similarities have been described as the handwriting and the postmarks, which included return addresses in Trenton, N.J. One letter was addressed to "Tom Brokaw," the NBC anchorman, and the other was sent to "Senator Daschle." Both had printed letters and numerals. The Daschle letter gave a return address of "4th grade, Greenvale School, Franklin Park, N.J. 08852." The NBC letter had no return address.
Mr. Mueller said agents working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now "testing, analyzing and comparing powders" with ones received in Florida, where the first exposures were reported including one that killed Bob Stevens, 63, the photo editor of the Sun, a supermarket tabloid.
Since the initial discovery of the anthrax exposures in Florida, 13 persons have either been diagnosed with anthrax or were confirmed as having been exposed to the anthrax bacteria.
In New York, authorities are trying to learn the source of an anthrax infection suffered by the 7-month-old son of an ABC news producer. The youngster was the second anthrax case involving the media in New York. Earlier, an aide to Mr. Brokaw tested positive for the bacteria.
Meanwhile, 150 abortion clinics, most of them in the Southeast, reported receiving letters with anthrax threats. All have so far proven to be hoaxes, said Beth Raboin, spokeswoman for the Feminist Majority, one of three pro-choice groups that monitor security at clinics.
The anthrax exposure that killed Mr. Stevens and infected a co-worker, Ernesto Blanco, was from airborne spores, which prove fatal about 90 percent of the time. The other exposures nationwide are from cutaneous anthrax, meaning they infect the skin on contact. Those cases can be treated with an expected success rate of about 80 percent.
Florida health officials yesterday classified Mr. Blanco as a possible case of anthrax and ordered employees at the office where the men worked to a second round of blood tests. Authorities said the letter in which the anthrax was delivered to Mr. Stevens was tossed and burned before it could be tested. He was diagnosed with the disease Oct. 4.
Mr. Mueller also said the FBI remains on the highest state of alert for possible new terrorist attacks in this country and against U.S. targets overseas. He said when the warning was issued last week to the public and 18,000 police agencies across the country, it involved a specific time period and that that period had not yet ended.
"Because it was specific with regard to time, it was our belief that federal, state, and local law enforcement should be on a higher state of alert, and we remain on a higher state of alert," he said. "Quite obviously, the incidents of anthrax exposures in the last couple of days warrant such a continued state of alert."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide