AGAWAM MAN SENTENCED TO 15 YEARS FOR THREATENING A FEDERAL PROSECUTOR AND UNLAWFUL POSSESSION OF RICIN
BOSTON, Mass. - United States District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock today sentenced an Agawam man to 15 years in prison for threatening a federal prosecutor and illegally possessing ricin, a deadly toxin that is classified under federal law as a weapon of mass destruction.
MICHAEL CROOKER, 57, had previously pleaded guilty 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.
U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said, “Mr. Crooker received the maximum sentence of 15 years, which should send a strong message. He not only threatened a federal prosecutor but manufactured a weapon of mass destruction and threatened to use it against the United States or hand it over to terrorists. These are serious crimes that come with serious consequences.”
Federal agents arrested CROOKER on June 23, 2004, charging him with using the U.S. 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. 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 were also discovered.
While CROOKER was in jail awaiting trial on the firearms charge, he told two 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 by his arrest and the various searches, CROOKER sent a letter to the Assistant U.S. 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 U.S. 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 1990's 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 sentenced CROOKER to the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Ortiz; Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Office; Guy N. Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Boston Field Division; and Robert Bethel, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William D. Weinreb, Donald L. Cabell and Jeffrey Auerhahn of Ortiz’s Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit.