SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A California man suspected of mailing more
than 120 hoax anthrax letters to media outlets is due back in court
Friday, a day after several more newspapers reported receiving
Marc M. Keyser, 66, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court Thursday, and the judge assigned Assistant Federal Defender Rachelle Barbour to his case. He did not enter a plea, and Barbour declined comment outside the courtroom.
Keyser was interviewed previously by the FBI after a similar mailing in 2007, but he was not charged.
Keyser allegedly sent a package containing a small aerosol can labeled "Anthrax," along with a compact disc, to the Sacramento News and Review newspaper, according a criminal complaint filed Thursday in federal court.
Keyser told agents then that he was using the mailing as a publicity stunt for a novel he had penned, and "to model what would happen if terrorist were to use anthrax ... to show the amount of anthrax a terrorist might spray into the air conditioning system in a shopping mall." The can did not contain anthrax.
Agents warned Keyser that he violated federal law and could be prosecuted, but they didn't arrest him. Agent Filip Colfescu said in the complaint that Keyser at the time apologized for the hoax "and told agents they should not worry, that he would not be doing it again."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who is prosecuting the current case, said Keyser was not charged in 2007 because "it was
a very much more limited conduct at that point. It was one instance. He was admonished."
Keyser was arrested at his home in Sacramento on Wednesday and
was charged with three counts of sending hoax anthrax threats by
mail. Given the number of packages sent, the number of charges
could be increased in coming days. Each count carries a maximum
penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Wagner said.
Keyser could also face tens of thousands of dollars in restitution payments to emergency service providers around the nation, Wagner said. "The totality of it could be quite a piece," he said.
The investigation began after The Atlantic magazine received a letter Monday. On Thursday, more media outlets reported receiving the packages, including the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County
Register, The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, The Courier-Journal in
Louisville, Ky., the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor
and The Providence Journal in Rhode Island.
Media outlets in North Carolina and Washington state also had received the letters, as had Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., and a Sacramento McDonald's. Offices were briefly evacuated in some
So far, none of the packets examined have tested positive for hazardous material, the FBI said.
At least some of the packages had Keyser's return address on them, and agents found 11 more packets in Keyser's car, according to the complaint.
The packages linked to Keyser contained a sugar packet labeled "Anthrax Sample" along with a biohazard symbol, the FBI said in a news release. The CD was titled "Anthrax: Shock & Awe Terror,"
which Keyser said was the title of his new book.
Keyser's ex-wife, Terri Keyser-Cooper, a civil rights attorney in Reno, Nev., said she was shocked to learn of the arrest when reached by The Associated Press.
"Oh, my God. I have not been in touch with him for years. I have no idea what he's been up to. I cannot imagine him doing any criminal activity," said Keyser-Cooper, 61, who divorced Keyser in 1982. "He certainly was very mild-mannered. He was not in any trouble that I know of."
Keyser had been investigated in 1998 by the Postal Service for mail fraud in regards to thousands of fake collections letters that were sent out by a nonprofit organization started by Keyser, the AIDS Action League. A postal inspector determined that Keyser's scheme didn't violate federal law because he wasn't trying to profit from it.
In 2004, Keyser rankled local law enforcement when he went door to door in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, asking residents for donations to increase terrorism security outside of the local police station. The Elk Grove Police Department issued a scam alert on its Web site, and said there was no credibility to Keyser's claims.
Records show that state and federal tax collectors had placed liens against the AIDS Action League in 1998 and 2001. They also show a number of other corporations and organizations listed at Keyser's previous address, including Business Terror Watch, Homeland Defense and World AIDS Organization.
Keyser is being held in the county jail until a judge rules on whether he can be released on bail.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Don Thompson in Sacramento, Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., Malcolm C. Knox
in Louisville, Ky., and AP researcher Julie Reed in New York.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)