Massachusetts Man Guilty of Threatening Federal Prosecutor, Possessing Ricin
Click to view image: 'RICIN ATTACK - USA 2'
BOSTON—An Agawam man was convicted today in federal court of illegally possessing the deadly toxin ricin and using the mail to threaten a federal prosecutor. MICHAEL CROOKER, 57, pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Douglas P Woodlock to one count of mailing a letter containing a threat to injure an officer or employee of the United States and one count of possessing the toxin ricin without obtaining required registration. CROOKER, who has been held in custody on various matters since June 23, 2004, will remain incarcerated until his sentencing. At today’s plea hearing, the prosecutor told the court that had the case proceeded to trial, the government’s evidence would have proven that law enforcement agents arrested CROOKER on June 23, 2004 on a federal complaint charging him with using the United States mail to transport a firearm.
Agents also searched CROOKER’s Agawam apartment the same day and discovered what appeared to be a weapons lab along with various dangerous or deadly chemicals that could be used to make powerful explosives. Agents also discovered castor seeds, which are the source of the deadly poison ricin; abrus seeds, which are the source of the deadly poison abrin; and all of the materials needed to extract ricin and abrin from the seeds such as acetone, lye, laboratory glassware, and coffee filters. Agents later searched CROOKER’s parents’ residence, where CROOKER had stored additional chemicals and castor seeds. While CROOKER was in jail awaiting trial on the firearms charge, he told two fellow inmates that he knew how to make ricin, had made ricin in the past, and possessed ricin.
He told one of them how to manufacture ricin and explained the process for doing so. CROOKER also discussed how ricin could be sent through the mail, placed on food, or blown into a person’s face to cause death. On July 22, 2004, angered over by his arrest and the various searches, CROOKER sent a letter to the Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting the firearms case and invoked the name of Timothy McVeigh, the individual responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma federal building bombing. CROOKER wrote: “As Martyr McVeigh’s T-shirt says: 'The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by blood of patriots and tyrants.'” CROOKER challenged the prosecutor to “bring on your [expletive deleted] and I'll bring on mine,” and warned that even an imprisoned person could cripple the United States Postal System by sending toxins through the mail.
On July 26, 2004, CROOKER sent a letter to the Westfield Evening News stating that he had offered to “cooperate and get any WMD’s (if they exist) off the street” if the government dropped the firearms charges he was facing. CROOKER suggested that the items would otherwise “fall into the hands of people” like Mohammed Salemah, who was convicted of participating in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. CROOKER and Salemah met in the 1990s when both were incarcerated in federal prison in California. In August 2004, CROOKER’s father was cleaning a window on his property and unearthed a buried vial of powdered ricin.
The quantity of ricin in the vial was enough to kill 150-750 people. In letters to family members, CROOKER admitted to possessing the ricin and indicated it had been there as long as three or four years. Judge Woodlock scheduled sentencing for June 20, 2011. CROOKER faces up to 15 years in prison, to be followed by up to three years of supervised release and a maximum of $500,000 in fines.
As part of a plea agreement, the parties will both recommend that the court impose the maximum 15-year sentence. United States Attorney Carmen M Ortiz, Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Division, Guy N Thomas Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Office and Robert Bethel, Inspector in Charge of the United States Postal Inspection Service made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys William D Weinreb, Donald L Cabell and Jeffrey Auerhahn of Ortiz’s Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit.
WASHINGTON — A US man pleaded guilty Monday to illegal possession of ricin, a naturally-occurring poison used in murder and political assassinations and feared as a potential bioterror weapon.
Michael Crooker, 57, of the eastern US state of Massachusetts, also pleaded guilty to threatening a federal prosecutor, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.
Click to view image: 'RICIN ATTACK - USA'
Hazmat workers enter the Russell Senate Office building in Washington after Ricin-contaminated mail was found in 2004
Ricin is one of the world's most notorious poisons, killing the victim within three to five days. As little as one milligram could suffice to kill an adult. No antidote currently exists.
Crooker, who has been in custody on various matters since 2004, is scheduled to be sentenced June 20. His plea agreement with prosecutors calls for a 15-year prison sentence, the DOJ said.
Crooker pleaded guilty to one count of possessing ricin without obtaining required registration.
Prosecutors alleged that Crooker admitted in letters to family members that a vial of ricin found at his father's home belonged to him. The father had found the vial by accident.
"The quantity of ricin in the vial was enough to kill 150-750 people," the DOJ said in the statement.
The toxin was used to kill Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in 1978. He was jabbed with a ricin-filled pellet, just 0.6 millimeters (0.024 of an inch) in diameter, fired from a KGB agent's umbrella.
Ricin is a byproduct of the seeds of the castor oil plant, which is used to manufacture brake fluid, soap, varnish, ink and other products.
As a result, the plant is widely grown, which makes ricin more easily accessible to bioterrorists. It could be delivered in food, water, in a mist or, as in the Markov case, injected.
Plea Entered in Ricin Case
A 57-year-old Massachusetts man is expected to serve 15 years in prison after acknowledging on Monday that he illicitly held the lethal toxin ricin and threatened a federal prosecutor, the Boston Globe reported (see GSN, April 16, 2010).
Michael Crooker is scheduled for sentencing on June 20 in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Crooker was arrested in 2004 when federal authorities descended on his house in Agawam after determining he had tried to send a handmade gun sound suppressor through the mail system. Along with potential bomb-making material, investigators discovered seeds that could be used to produce ricin and the deadly poison abrin, along with equipment to draw the toxins out of the seeds, according to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
In July of that year, Crooker sent a letter to the federal prosecutor handling his case, making reference to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “As Martyr McVeigh’s T-shirt says: ‘The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by blood of patriots and tyrants,'" the letter stated.
Crooker suggested that even from jail it was possible to deliver dangerous materials through the nation's postal delivery system, Ortiz said.
The next month, Crooker's father discovered a small container of ricin stashed underground on his land. Crooker acknowledged that the material was his and had been interred in that location for three to four years, according to Ortiz (Stewart Bishop, Boston Globe, March 29).
"The quantity of ricin in the vial was enough to kill 150-750 people," the Justice Department said in a release.
The toxin is derived from castor seeds and was most famously employed in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov (see GSN, Sept. 11, 2008). It is considered a potential bioterrorism threat (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, March 28).
Crooker has been held by authorities since 2004, the Globe reported. A plea deal calls for him to receive the total possible 15-year sentence on iindividual federal charges of mailing a letter containing a threat to injure an officer or employee of the United States and possessing the toxin, ricin, without the required registration. Along with the prison term, he faces penalties of $500,000
*** (Bishop, Boston Globe).
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