Story Summary

Ricin letter investigation

A letter addressed to President Obama containing a “suspicious substance” has been intercepted at the White House.

Preliminary tests are being conducted, but officials say, it is similar to the letter containing the deadly poison “Ricin” that was delivered to a U.S. Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi.

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A Texas actress was arrested Friday in connection with allegedly ricin-tainted letters that were mailed last month to President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, federal prosecutors said.

Shannon Richardson, 35, also known as Shannon Rogers and Shannon Guess, allegedly also mailed a third letter with the toxin ricin to Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which was founded and co-chaired by Bloomberg, according to an FBI arrest affidavit from U.S. Attorney John M. Bales’ office in Texas. The group’s office is in Washington.

Richardson is accused of mailing a threatening communication to the president and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, the prosecutor said.

She made an initial appearance Friday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven in Texarkana, Texas, the prosecutor said. She was arrested in Mount Pleasant, Texas, authorities said.

RicinSuspect

Shannon Rogers Richardson

The three letters were mailed from Shreveport, Louisiana, last month, federal authorities say.

Richardson has had minor roles in TV series, including “The Walking Dead” and “The Vampire Diaries.”

The FBI found “very low concentrations” of ricin on the letters, a spokesman said last month.

A law enforcement official told CNN’s Susan Candiotti that they believe Richardson sent the letters herself. She was angry at her husband, the official said.

CNN reported early in the investigation that the FBI considered Richardson to have serious credibility issues when they began interviewing her.

Last week, authorities searched the home of her husband in New Boston, Texas, in connection with the threatening letters to Obama and Bloomberg.

FBI agents interviewed the husband after Richardson contacted authorities, saying she had found suspicious containers in their New Boston home, two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation told CNN. One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were questions about what the wife told authorities.

“We’re looking at the credibility of the complainant and using due diligence,” the official said last week.

Both sources told CNN last week that the wife told authorities she found a suspicious container, and ricin research on the computer that she and her husband shared.
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The Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-tainted letters to President Barack Obama and other officials has been released from federal custody, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshal’s Service said Tuesday.

Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Mississippi, was charged with sending a threat to the president last week after letters containing the deadly toxin triggered a security scare in Washington. But a preliminary hearing that had been scheduled to continue on Tuesday was canceled and Curtis was released.

Jeff Woodfin, the chief deputy marshal in Oxford, said Curtis was no longer in federal custody but did not know the circumstances surrounding his release.

An arrest has been made in connection with possibly contaminated letters sent to President Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Paul Kevin Curtis was arrested by the FBI at his home in Corinth, Mississippi, the department said in a statement.

Discovered Tuesday, the letters were addressed to Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, and to Obama. The justice department release said a third letter was sent to a Mississippi justice official.

The letters to Wicker and Obama were stopped at a government mail-screening facility after initial tests indicated the presence of the deadly poison ricin.

Because initial tests can be “inconsistent,” the envelopes have been sent off for additional tests, an FBI statement said. The FBI does not expect to receive results from the tests until Thursday, federal law enforcement sources told CNN.

The letters read: “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.”

They were signed “I am KC and I approve this message,” a source said.

Reports of suspicious packages and envelopes also came into two Senate office buildings late Wednesday morning. Capitol Police evacuated the first floor of the Hart Senate Office Building for more than an hour and questioned a man in the area who had a backpack containing sealed envelopes, but the man was not taken into custody.

“It just reminds you that with public service comes the real possibility that you could be a target,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. “But on the other side of it, we have an excellent police force, and I think they’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Beyond Washington, suspicious letters spotted

Investigators are trying to determine whether suspicious letters found at Senate offices elsewhere in the country came from the same source, federal law enforcement sources said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said one of his home-state offices received a “suspicious-looking” letter and alerted authorities. “We do not know yet if the mail presented a threat,” said Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A staffer for Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake flagged “suspicious letters” at the freshman Republican’s Phoenix office, Flake spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky said in a statement, but “no dangerous material was detected in the letters.”

Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Jacobs said the envelope contained some type of powder. The person who initially found the envelope is being treated at a Phoenix-area hospital for a pre-existing condition and stress from the event, and others in the immediate vicinity were examined as well.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the FBI said it has no indication of a connection between the tainted letters and Monday’s bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. But the discoveries further heightened security concerns at a time when Congress is considering politically volatile legislation to toughen gun laws and reform the immigration system.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president had been briefed on the letters.

“Obviously, he understands and we all understand that there are procedures in place, as the FBI has said. There are — there is is a process in place that ensures that materials that are suspicious or substances that are found to be suspicious at remote locations are then sent for secondary and more intense testing, and that process is under way now,” Carney said.

A Texas chiropractor’s words in the spotlight

While authorities in Washington investigated the letters, the wife of a Texas chiropractor said the wording in them caught her by surprise.

The phrase used in the letters is something chiropractor John Raymond Baker once said and has been widely quoted online, his wife, Tammy Bennett Baker, told CNN.

On Wednesday, she sounded surprised when told by CNN that the wording was included in the letters under scrutiny in Washington. She said she was not aware of the letters and that the phrase refers to her husband’s general philosophy of care. She said their office phone started ringing frequently Wednesday afternoon, and it was “kind of freaking out our other employee.”

A 2006 post on a blog for Baker’s office says the comment originally was a criticism of insurance companies. Since then, the site says, it “has been a quote that has been picked up and quoted (sometimes without attribution) around the net” and “people are using it about all kinds of injustices.”

The letter sent to Wicker had a Memphis, Tennessee, postmark and no return address, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer wrote in an e-mail to senators and aides Tuesday. Wicker has been assigned a protective detail, according to a law enforcement source.

A laboratory in Maryland confirmed the presence of ricin on the letter addressed to Wicker after initial field tests also indicated the poison was present, according to Gainer. However, the FBI said additional testing was needed because field and preliminary tests produce inconsistent results.

“Only a full analysis performed at an accredited laboratory can determine the presence of a biological agent such as ricin,” according to the bureau.

A law enforcement source said further tests would be conducted at the Army’s biomedical research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Mail for members of Congress and the White House has been handled at offsite postal facilities since the 2001 anthrax attacks, which targeted Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota.

Senate mail service shut down

Senators were told Tuesday that the mail facility would be temporarily shut down “to make sure they get everything squared away,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said Tuesday afternoon.

“The bottom line is, the process we have in place worked,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, also praised the postal workers and law enforcement officers for “preventing this threat before it even reached the Capitol.”

“They proved that the proactive measures we put in place do, in fact, work,” he said.

Ricin is a highly toxic substance derived from castor beans. As little as 500 micrograms — an amount the size of the head of a pin — can kill an adult. There is no specific test for exposure and no antidote once exposed.

It can be produced easily and cheaply, and authorities in several countries have investigated links between suspect extremists and ricin. But experts say it is more effective on individuals than as a weapon of mass destruction.

Ricin was used in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. The author, who had defected nine years earlier, was jabbed by the tip of an umbrella while waiting for a bus in London and died four days later.

A previous ricin scare hit the Capitol in 2004, when tests identified it in a letter in a Senate mail room that served then-Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office. The discovery forced 16 employees to go through decontamination procedures, but no one reported any ill effects afterward, Frist said.
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Government laboratories are testing samples of a suspicious substance found in letters at off-site White House and Senate mailrooms after preliminary test results pointing to the deadly poison ricin rattled Washington, authorities said Wednesday.

White House mail handlers identified a “suspicious substance” Tuesday in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama that preliminarily tested positive for ricin, the FBI said. The same day, a similar letter addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, tested positive for ricin — a toxin with no known antidote, officials said.

But the FBI said initial tests can be “inconsistent,” and the envelopes have been sent off for additional tests.

Meanwhile, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, says one of his home-state offices received a “suspicious-looking” letter and alerted authorities. “We do not know yet if the mail presented a threat,” said Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Filters at a government mail-screening facility preliminarily tested positive for ricin Wednesday morning, an FBI statement said, and mail from that site is being tested.

Mail for members of Congress and the White House has been handled at off-site postal facilities since the 2001 anthrax attacks. But Capitol Police were checking out reports of suspicious packages or letters in two Senate office buildings and evacuated the first floor of one those buildings Wednesday afternoon.

Police questioned a man in the area who had a backpack containing sealed envelopes, but a federal law enforcement official told CNN that authorities do not believe the man was connected to the letters found Tuesday.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the FBI said it has no indication of a connection between the tainted letters and Monday’s bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. But the discoveries further heightened security concerns at a time when Congress is considering politically volatile legislation to toughen gun laws and reform the immigration system.

“Monday’s attack in Boston reminded us that terrorism can still strike anywhere at any time,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. “And as yesterday’s news of an attempt to send ricin to the Capitol reminds us, it is as important as ever to take the steps necessary to protect Americans from those who would do us harm.”

The letter sent to Wicker had a Memphis, Tennessee, postmark and no return address, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer wrote in an e-mail to senators and aides.

A laboratory in Maryland confirmed the presence of ricin on the letter addressed to Wicker after initial field tests also indicated the poison was present, according to Gainer. However, the FBI said additional testing was needed because field and preliminary tests produce inconsistent results.

“Only a full analysis performed at an accredited laboratory can determine the presence of a biological agent such as ricin,” according to the bureau. “Those tests are in the process of being conducted and generally take from 24 to 48 hours.”

In a statement late Tuesday, the U.S. Capitol Police said further tests would be conducted at the Army’s biomedical research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, told reporters after a briefing for lawmakers that a suspect has already been identified in the incident, but a knowledgeable source said no one was in custody Tuesday night.

Wicker has been assigned a protective detail, according to a law enforcement source.

Postal workers started handling mail at a site off Capitol Hill after the 2001 anthrax attacks that targeted then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, among others.

Senators were told Tuesday that the mail facility would be temporarily shut down “to make sure they get everything squared away,” McCaskill said Tuesday afternoon.

“The bottom line is, the process we have in place worked,” she said, adding that members of Congress will be warning their home-state offices to look out for similar letters.

McConnell, R-Kentucky, also praised the postal workers and law enforcement officers for “preventing this threat before it even reached the Capitol.”

“They proved that the proactive measures we put in place do in fact work,” he said.

Ricin is a highly toxic substance derived from castor beans. As little as 500 micrograms — an amount the size of the head of a pin — can kill an adult. There is no specific test for exposure and no antidote once exposed.

It can be produced easily and cheaply, and authorities in several countries have investigated links between suspect extremists and ricin. But experts say it is more effective on individuals than as a weapon of mass destruction.

Ricin was used in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. The author, who had defected nine years earlier, was jabbed by the tip of an umbrella while waiting for a bus in London and died four days later.

A previous ricin scare hit the Capitol in 2004, when tests identified a letter in a Senate mailroom that served then-Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office. The discovery forced 16 employees to go through decontamination procedures, but no one reported any ill effects afterward, Frist said.

Wicker, 61, was first appointed by former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to the U.S. Senate in December 2007 after the resignation of then-Sen. Trent Lott. He was then elected to the seat in 2008 and won re-election in 2012 to a second term.

Before joining the Senate, he was a U.S. representative in the House from 1995 to 2007. Before that, he served in the Mississippi Senate.
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A letter addressed to President Barack Obama that contained a “suspicious substance” has been intercepted at the White House’s off-site mail facility, a Secret Service spokesman said Wednesday.

An envelope that tested positive for a deadly poison was intercepted in a mail room at the U.S. Capitol.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the envelope was addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, a republican from Mississippi.

A lab in Maryland confirmed the presence of Ricin, a highly toxic substance derived from castor beans.

The chair of the Homeland Security Commission says it’s unlikely the incident is linked to Monday’s bombings.

A law enforcement source tells CNN that Senator Wicker has been assigned a protective detail.

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