- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

The upcoming trial of a U.S. Capitol Police officer accused of leaving powdered sugar on a desk with a threatening note during the height of an anthrax crisis in the fall will reveal whether federal authorities meant business when they said they were going to throw the book at anthrax hoaxers.
His attorney says that indicting and prosecuting Officer James J. Pickett on charges of making false statements and obstructing police would be an example of the Justice Department unfairly turning a bad joke into a crime in its get-tough policy on terrorism.
The 13-year veteran officer has been suspended since the November incident. He faces trial April 30.
Meanwhile, an April 17 sentencing date is set for a Stafford, Va., postal worker who pleaded guilty to sprinkling baby powder inside a bulk-mail envelope.
Letter carrier Sharon Ann Watson, 31, told FBI agents that she meant no harm when she powdered an envelope at the Falmouth Post Office on Oct. 26. According to court documents, she said she wanted to prove her suspicions that post office management wasn't taking the anthrax attacks seriously enough.
After a plea agreement, Miss Watson was indicted in Federal District Court in Alexandria on charges of the delay or destruction of mail. She faces as many as five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
After the anthrax attacks in October during which two letters laced with the fatal bacteria were delivered on Capitol Hill federal authorities vowed to take a no-holds-barred approach to prosecuting such accused hoaxers.
President Bush called the cases a "wave of terrorist attacks" on the United States and said anyone using them as an "opportunity for a prank should know that sending false alarms is a serious criminal offense."
Anthony Salvatore Mancuso, of Wheaton, for example, sprinkled white powder on a co-worker's computer keyboard, mouse and mouse pad at Financial Insight Systems in Rockville on Nov. 1.
But if he is convicted, he may end up facing a softer sentence than Miss Watson, according to Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglass M. Gansler, because he and another accused hoaxer will be tried in local, not federal, courts.
Miss Watson was tried in federal court because she was a federal employee, but Mr. Mancuso, 27, will be tried in Montgomery County Circuit Court on May 13 for making a false statement about a destructive device, which is a felony in Maryland. If convicted, he could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Arlo K. Allen, 44, of Mitchellville, will stand trial April 16 on charges similar to those in Mr. Mancuso's case. According to court documents, Mr. Allen used a powder-filled bag that he said contained anthrax to threaten a customer-service employee at a Ford dealership in Silver Spring.
Prosecutors won't have an easy time sending the accused pranksters to such lengthy prison sentences, however, because they will have to duplicate what the "climate was like [when] these hoaxes took place."
"That climate exacerbated the crime. We were in a national crisis in November, and hoaxers like Mancuso preyed upon the fear and paranoia of the people," Mr. Gansler said. "The problem is that we're at a different place in time right now, and it's unclear how a judge will rule on it now."
Officer Pickett's case will be heard in Federal District Court in the District. Prosecutors say that on Nov. 7, he poured two packets of a sugar substitute on a police desk in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. He left a note reading: "Please inhale. Yes this could be? Call your doctor for flu symptoms. This is a Capitol police training exercize (sic)! I hope you pass!"

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide