UPDATE - 6 p.m. The FBI has arrested a Sacramento man in connection with mailing hoax anthrax packages to more than 100 media outlets and the Modesto office of Congressman George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.
Authorities arrested Marc M. Keyser, 66, and charged him with three counts of sending a hoax letter that contained a packet labeled "Anthrax Sample" and a CD titled "Anthrax: Shock and Awe Terror."
Law enforcement responded Wednesday morning to Radanovich’s Coffee Road office after an employee opened the suspicious package. Both of the employees in the office were taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure. They were found healthy and released.
According to the FBI, the packages were sent to addresses nationwide including: over 100 major media outlets and to at least two restaurants in the Sacramento-area.
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Several of these packages have been collected and sent to the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia, for processing. At this point none of the contents have tested positive for bio-hazardous material.
UPDATE - 3:35 p.m.An FBI agent says packages purporting to contain anthrax were sent not only to the Modesto office of U.S. Rep. George Radanovich but also to locations in Sacramento, Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C.
FBI Special Agent Steve Dupre in Sacramento said all the mailings carried a Sacramento return address.
The letters mailed to Washington and North Carolina have been tested. They did not contain hazardous materials, Dupre said.
As of 2 p.m. authorities had removed the package in Radanovich’s Modesto office. The two employees who were in the office when the material came in the mail have been released from a hospital after an examination and sent home. The office is closed for the rest of the day; it will re-open tomorrow, said Radanovich spokesman Spencer Pederson.
Radanovich was in a meeting in Fresno when the package was opened. No other Radanovich offices received unusual packages, Pederson said.
"Obviously they're being very cautious," Pederson said, referring to procedures in Modesto. "Their first concern was to take care the staff members, then seal off the immediate area, then take care of the package."
KCRA television reported that it received a suspicious package, and The Sacramento Bee reported one as well.
The package mailed to The Sacramento Bee was opened by a newsroom employee around 2:30 p.m. She said it contained a packet of a white substance stuck on a CD. Imprinted on the CD was an image of former Secretary of State Colin Powell holding a vial and the word "anthrax" typewritten on the packet.
Also imprinted on the CD was the phrase: "Anthrax Shock And Awe Terror."
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None of the substance got on her, the employee said.
The postmark indicated the package was mailed out of West Sacramento on Monday.
Authorities are investigating an anthrax scare at the Modesto office of Congressman George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. A receptionist said the office received in the mail an envelope containing a smaller package labeled "anthrax." The office was evacuated about 10 a.m.
Police, fire, ambulances and a hazardous materials team are at the office on the city's northwest side, at the intersection of Coffee Road and Sylvan Avenue.
Fire battalion Chief Hugo Patino said once all members of the hazardous materials team arrive, they will put the package in a container, then hand it over to the FBI. The agents will take the package to a crime lab for analysis, Patino said. He did not know how long the analysis will take.
A worker from a nearby business said no other offices have been evacuated. Corey Gales, who works in the same building as Radanovich’s office, said the two members of Radanovich’s staff who were on duty have been isolated by law enforcement authorities in the office complex parking lot.
Although no one was hurt, the workers, both women, will be taken to a hospital for a precautionary examination, Patino said.
Radanovich represents California's 19th Congressional District, which stretches from parts of Modesto and neighboring towns into the Sierra foothills, Madera County and parts of Fresno.
According to the congressman's office in Washington, the package received in Modesto was addressed to Radanovich. When a staff member opened it, she discovered a DVD or CD with a picture of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on the front as well as the small sugar-sized envelope labeled "anthrax." She called Modesto police as well as the U.S. Capitol Police’s threat assessment office in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Capitol Police have jurisdiction over the 47-square block area around the Capitol, as well as federal police authority throughout the United States. Capitol police referred all calls to the FBI’s Sacramento office and had no further comment.
Congressional offices are not infrequently on the receiving end of unusual phone calls and letters, staffers note, and within several hours of the package’s delivery Radanovich’s staff sounded nonplussed about the episode. The package may have been the work of someone with a previous history of sending suspicious mail. Capitol police told Radanovich staff members that the FBI is aware of a person who’s mailed similar packages before.
Real anthrax was sent by mail to two Senate offices in late 2001, amid a broader campaign in which five people died elsewhere from exposure to the substance. Ever since, mail sent to Capitol Hill offices has been subjected to irradiation – which kills potential anthrax samples, but also causes a delay in delivery.
Bee reporters Leslie Albrecht in Modesto and Michael Doyle in Washington contributed to this report.