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Ricin suspect ordered to obtain psychiatric evaluation

A federal judge has ordered a Spokane man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to government officials, including President Barack Obama, receive psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

Matthew Ryan Buquet has been in federal custody since May, when several letters that initially tested positive for the castor bean-derived toxin arrived at the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The missives, which included the message “We have a bomb placed we are going to kill you! Hezbollah,” arrived in envelopes bearing the return address of a downtown Spokane law firm, according to court documents since sealed.

A female employee of the firm reported she began receiving notes and gifts, including a can of Coca-Cola, on her desk. Buquet, a member of the janitorial crew that cleaned the office space leased by the law firm, had been dismissed from previous jobs for similar behavior. The FBI detained Buquet at his apartment shortly after the letters were discovered and interrogated him at a hotel, according to court paperwork. An FBI agent with the investigation said at the time Buquet appeared “gravely disabled,” exhibited “bizarre behaviors” and was “delusional,” according to court records.

U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty authorized the mental evaluation. Haggerty, an Oregon judge, was assigned to the case after a Spokane judge recused himself because one of the poisoned letters was addressed to a colleague.

Haggerty wrote in his ordered he was “satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant may not be competent to understand the charges against him and to assist in his defense.”

A hearing to argue the findings of the competency hearing is set for May, with a potential jury trial in the case pushed to October. Buquet has been indicted on a criminal charge of possessing a deadly biological agent and two counts of mailing threatening communications. If convicted of the charges, Buquet could spend 20 years to the rest of his life in federal prison.

Government shutdown may slow trial of Spokane ricin suspect

Add the investigation of a Spokane man accused of mailing letters laced with ricin to various government agencies to the list of casualties from the 16-day federal government shutdown last month.

Matthew Buquet, 38, has been indicted on federal charges alleging he sent mailings in May containing the castor bean-based poison to President Barack Obama and a federal judge. Subsequent letters to a post office and Fairchild Air Force Base were also discovered by the FBI, but were not mentioned in a superseding indictment in the case filed in June.

No one was harmed by the mailings. The letter sent to Obama allegedly read, “We have a bomb placed, we are going to kill you! Hezbollah,” referring to the militant group formed by members of the Shiite sect of Islam.

The trial has been delayed by the recusal of U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko, who is a colleague of the intended target of one of the alleged mailings, as well as Buquet's request to have an expert witness examine the substance that was included in the packages. The alleged toxin is being housed at a federal government lab whose workers were the target of furloughs during last month's government shutdown, according to a filing by Buquet earlier this month.

No delays in the anticipated May 2014 trial date have yet been announced.

Ricin suspect appears in U.S. District Court for scheduling

Clad in a white Spokane County Jail jumpsuit and sporting a long, black beard, the Spokane man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to a federal judge and President Barack Obama appeared in court Wednesday to set a tentative timeline for his legal proceedings.

Matthew Ryan Buquet, 38, was mostly silent during an appearance in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington on Wednesday morning, conferring in whispers with his attorneys and sipping water from a styrofoam cup. Buquet has been in federal custody since he was arrested shortly after mailing letters containing the biological toxin derived from castor seeds in mid-May. His case was recently transferred to District Judge Ancer Haggerty of Portland, Ore., because Buquet allegedly mailed one of the poisioned letters to Eastern Washington District Judge Fred Van Sickle.

According to a federal indictment filed earlier this summer, each of the letters Buquet sent read, “We have a bomb placed, we are going to Kill you! Hezbollah.”

Though the FBI has said field tests have produced positive results for the presence of ricin in the letters, Eastern Washington Assistant U.S. District Attorney Stephanie Van Marter said Wednesday the government expected to have final, peer-reviewed test results by the beginning of October. Judge Haggerty set motion hearings for January and February ahead of Buquet's expected trial date, to begin in May of next year.

The FBI discovered a total of five ricin letters mailed from Spokane in May, including missives directed to Fairchild Air Force Base, the CIA and a post office. Buquet's legal team declined comment on the pending investigation Wednesday. No one was injured as a result of the poisoned letters.

Buquet has pleaded not guilty to the three counts against him: one charge of developing, producing or possessing a known biological toxin and two counts of mailing a threatening communication. The first count carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Mailing threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years under federal law.

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Buquet waives release argument

A man charged with sending a ricin-laced letter to a federal judge waived arguments today about why he should be released from jail pending charges.

Matthew R. Buquet, 38, wore shaded glasses and sported a long beard during his 2 p.m. appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.

His attorneys, Andrea George and Amy Rubin, of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, indicated that they could argue for Buquet’s release at a later time.

“It’s too early,” George said after the hearing. Prosecutors will meet the attorneys in the next few days “which will be our first opportunity to know anything.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed, who was standing in for Stephanie Van Marter, confirmed that the search warrants, which were executed earlier this month at 1818 W. First Ave., remain sealed.

Buquet, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, but was adopted and raised by parents in Michigan, is a registered sex offender from a 1998 conviction for indecent liberties, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

In the current case, Buquet is charged with one count of mailing threatening communication to U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle.

The alleged threat was made in one of the two letters seized by U.S. Postal Service authorities during routine screening at a mail facility in Spokane on May 14.

Elderly men accused in Ga. militia plot

Dan Roberts, left, and Frank Thomas are shown in this artist rendering as he appear in a federal courtroom in Gainesville, Ga., on Wednesday. The two and two other men are accused of planning a terror attack. (AP/Richard Miller)

By GREG BLUESTEIN and JAY REEVES, Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — On his website, militia leader-turned-blogger Mike Vanderboegh writes about fed-up Americans responding to government violence with guns and grenades. It's an attempt to warn the government that people are armed and angry, he says, just like last year when he urged those upset with President Barack Obama's health care plan to toss bricks at Democratic Party offices.

 A few people shattered office windows then, and federal prosecutors now say his online novel about a militia making war against the U.S. government inspired a group of four retirement-age men in Georgia to plot an attack on unnamed government leaders using guns, the highly deadly toxin ricin and explosives.

Vanderboegh said he doesn't know the suspects. He ridiculed the men's plans and chuckled at the notoriety he has gained for his online rants.

“It comes with the territory,” he said in an interview from his home in a Birmingham suburb. Vanderboegh hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing.

The four suspected militia members allegedly boasted of a “bucket list” of government officials who needed to be “taken out”; talked about scattering ricin from a plane or a car speeding down a highway past major U.S. cities; and scouted IRS and ATF offices, with one man saying, “We'd have to blow the whole building like Timothy McVeigh,” a reference to the man executed for bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Federal investigators said they had them under surveillance for at least seven months, infiltrating their meetings at a Waffle House, homes and other places, before finally arresting them Tuesday, just days after discovering evidence they were trying to extract ricin from castor beans.

The four gray-haired men appeared in federal court in Gainesville, Ga., Wednesday without entering a plea. Frederick Thomas, 73; Dan Roberts, 67; (pictured up top) Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68, (pictured left) were jailed for a bail hearing next week. They apparently had trouble hearing the judge, some of them cupping their ears.

Read the rest of the story by clicking the link below.