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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Former Davenport Elementary School Teacher Charged Federally For Mailing Hoax Biological Agents And Toxins

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announces the unsealing of an indictment charging Maria Bassi Lauro (65, Davenport) with six counts of mailing threatening communications and transmitting false information and hoaxes. If convicted on all counts, Lauro faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison.

FBI special agents arrested Lauro at her home in Davenport today. She made her initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Sean P. Flynn and has been released on restrictive bail conditions.

According to the indictment  and information presented in court, Lauro mailed threatening letters containing white powder to three different elementary schools in Polk and Lake Counties, where she had previously worked as an elementary school teacher. The recipients of the mailings had believed that the powder could be harmful and called for emergency assistance. Because anthrax, ricin, and other toxins can appear as a white powder, law enforcement and other first responders treated each of the mailings as hazardous and potentially lethal. Later analysis of the powder contained in the mailings, however, proved that it was harmless.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.        

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Health, and various HAZMAT and Fire/Rescue teams. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Daniel George.

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Updated September 11, 2019