Around nation, anthrax hoaxes lead to arrests : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Around nation, anthrax hoaxes lead to arrests Copyright APonline

The Nando Times' anthrax coverage By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press

(October 17, 2001 1:34 p.m. EDT) - The veterans meeting hall in rural Springfield, La., hardly looks like a place terrorists would even know about, let alone target.

The officers who arrived there to examine a mysterious, powder-filled letter believed it was a hoax. It was.

"There's obviously sick people among us who think this is funny and hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it," state police Lt. Mike Edmonson said.

Assailing similar anthrax hoaxes as "no joking matter," Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday that those who perpetrate terrorist scares will be aggressively prosecuted.

False threats of anthrax attacks are "grotesque transgressions of the public trust" and tax the resources of an already-overburdened law enforcement system, Ashcroft said.

Since Oct. 1, most of the 2,300 reports of substances feared to be anthrax have been false alarms or practical jokes, FBI Director Robert Mueller said.

But arrests have been reported in several states, and authorities note that it is a federal crime to threaten to use biological agents or toxins.

Ashcroft highlighted the case of Joseph A. Faryniarz, 48, an employee of Connecticut's environmental agency. Faryniarz told agency security guards on Oct. 11 that he found a powdery substance on a paper towel under some paperwork near his computer.

On the towel was written the misspelled word "ANTHAX," according to a criminal complaint. All 800 agency employees were evacuated and 12 employees were forced to be washed down with a decontamination solution.

The substance turned out to be coffee creamer. The two-day evacuation of the building cost taxpayers $1.5 million, Ashcroft said.

Faryniarz told the FBI he knew the incident was a hoax even before agents arrived because another individual had claimed responsibility.

Faryniarz was charged with making false statements to FBI agents; he was not charged with perpetrating the hoax. He could face a maximum of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $3 million.

Faryniarz refused to comment Tuesday. Calls to his attorney went unanswered.

Faryniarz was the second Connecticut man connected to a hoax. Frederick Forcellina was arrested after authorities alleged it was his voice on a 911 call warning that three Connecticut court buildings had been "dusted" and attacks were planned against railroad stations and schools.

Prosecutors said there was no evidence that Forcellina had carried out his threat. Forcellina, who faces a possible life sentence if convicted, did not return messages left at his home.

In Cincinnati, a 51-year-old man who said he left an envelope containing a white powder on his boss' desk as a practical joke was charged with inducing panic. John Silz faces up to 1 1/2 years in prison if convicted.

Other arrests include:

- An apartment complex maintenance supervisor in Littleton, Colo., who was charged with menacing and harassment. James Larsen, 35, said he left an envelope of white laundry detergent for co-workers as a joke.

- A 38-year-old York County, Pa., woman, Kimberly Lee Markey, who was accused of sending a hoax anthrax letter. Police charged her with disorderly conduct, assault and harassment.

- A nurse at Bristol Regional Medical Center in Bristol, Tenn., Thomas Henry Arnold Jr., 46, who was charged with false reporting after a threatening note and talcum powder intended as a joke caused a scare.

- A Portsmouth, R.I., man, William Sylvia, 34, who allegedly admitted sending a threatening note containing white powder to a former friend. Sylvia faces federal charges, U.S. Attorney Margaret Curran said.

- Peter Womer, 26, and Stacy Givhan, 29, who were charged in Oxford, Miss., with threatening the use of a biological toxin. The men were preparing for a "hashing" event, in which dots of flour are used to mark a trail for runners. One of them allegedly told a citizen the substance was anthrax.

Authorities confronting such suspicious materials say they cannot afford to dismiss any report, no matter how far-fetched.

"These hoaxes can instill as much panic as the real deal, and unfortunately there are a number of idiots out there" who seem to thrive on that, said Gary, Ind., Mayor Scott King, who leads an emergency task force on terrorist responses for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Last Thursday, Louisiana state police sealed off the AmVets center in Springfield while hazardous materials specialists cleaned up the white powder that had prompted a bystander to contact the sheriff. No trace of anthrax was found.

In response to dozens of such calls, police have canceled all leave and placed all 985 troopers on around-the-clock standby.

"This kind of stuff is not funny," said Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster. "If we catch people pulling such stunts, my directive is that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 17, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ