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Press Release

Vancouver, Washington, Man Sentenced to 24 Months in Federal Prison for Mailing 100 Threatening Letters with White Powder

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon

Letters Went to U.S. Senators, Representatives, and Members of the Media

PORTLAND, Ore.—U. S. District Judge Michael H. Simon sentenced Christopher Lee Carlson to 24 months in prison today on a charge of conveying false information and a hoax containing a purported biological toxin.  Carlson, 41, of Vancouver, Washington, pleaded guilty to mailing approximately 100 threatening letters with white powder to U.S. Senators, Representatives and media personalities in February 2012.

About 24 of the letters were received and opened by staff members before law enforcement was able to intercept the remainder.  The letters were sent to Congressional offices in Washington, D.C., and their field offices across the country.  Results included evacuated offices, responses by hazardous materials units, decontamination procedures for affected persons, and interrupted workdays.  Dozens of law enforcement and emergency response teams responded in 24 federal districts.  Examination of the powder revealed it to be celery salt and cornstarch.

The threatening letters expressed frustration with politicians, corporations, and lobbyists.  Promising a new American Revolution, some included the warning:

“Oh yeah, the powder.  50 Senators were randomly selected to receive this letter as opposed to the other one.  Since I put the bug in ten of these letters, again randomly selected, there’s a 20% chance that you’ve just been exposed.  If you aren’t wearing a biohazard suit, anyway.”

In addition to serving 24 months in custody, Carlson must pay $36,311.07 in restitution to state and local law enforcement agencies for expenses incurred in the emergency responses.  After serving his prison sentence, Carlson will be on three years of supervised release and must comply with mental health treatment and medication requirements.

U. S. Attorney, Amanda Marshall, noted, “These types of hoaxes threaten the health and safety of the American people.  They instill fear in the public, overburden the resources of law enforcement and emergency responders, and harm the nation’s morale and economy.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation led the nationwide investigation from its Portland office.  Valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 

“Anthrax hoaxes are no joke,” said Kevin Rickett, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon.  “They cause fear for those who receive these letters, and they cost taxpayers a great deal of money during the resulting investigation.  We must treat these events as real threats, and that, in turn, forces agents and staff to spend significant time and resources investigating and resolving these crimes,” he added.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Stephen F. Peifer and David L. Atkinson.

Updated January 29, 2015