Feds issue new warning that hoaxes are no joke

Saturday, December 22, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Postal worker Clarence Lindsey allegedly scrawled "ANTHRAX INCLOSED" on a package at his job as a joke, but authorities found no humor in the misspelling or the deed. The Illinois man was indicted and, if convicted, could face up to 5 years in jail.

Lindsey is one of 58 people around the country arrested and charged in connection with anthrax hoaxes or threats since the anthrax scare began after Sept. 11, the postal service says. Of the total, 30 face federal charges, 28 state charges.

Many are alleged to have taken advantage of the public's fear of the deadly bacteria to either settle a score or pull off a prank.

It's no laughing matter, authorities say.

"It's kind of like yelling fire in a crowded theater," said Dan Milhalko, U.S. Postal Service inspector. "There's been too many warnings for people to say, 'I was just kidding.'"

Five people have already been convicted, said Milhalko. He said he did not know the precise sentences, but they were getting jail time and may also face fines.

On Friday, the FBI released the names of 14 people charged in what the bureau considered "notable" anthrax hoax cases, and added a warning: "We will not tolerate these serious violations of federal law," said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Those arrested for anthrax hoaxes have been charged with obstructing the mail, threatening to use weapons of mass destruction and using the mail to send threatening communications. The maximum penalty carried by each federal charge is 5 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Christopher Antonio Cooper, a Los Angeles Fire Department captain, is alleged to have sent a letter containing brown powder to a law firm that had represented his ex-wife. Authorities said the letter also contained a check from Cooper with the words, "Choke on it," written on the memo line.

Cooper has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, James Blancarte, said the check was Cooper's last alimony payment and denied the letter was an anthrax hoax.

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