State

Lawmaker's Modesto office cleared after another package scare

The Modesto office of U.S. Rep. George Radanovich was evacuated Friday after an intern in the mailroom came upon a suspicious package that was later found to contain tea, which possibly was sent as part of nationwide protests against big government spending, authorities said.

Nothing toxic was found in the envelope, and no injuries were reported.

Radanovich, R-Mariposa, was in Washington, D.C., when the envelope was found, according to a news release.

The incident started about 2 p.m. in the office at 3509 Coffee Road in north Modesto. The intern saw the package and alerted office staff, who called the Modesto Fire Department and U.S. Capitol Police as part of protocol.

The Modesto office was the target of an anthrax hoax in October, so the staff took every precaution, Radanovich said.

About 20 people from the building, including those in the congressman's office and two mortgage firms, were evacuated as a precaution.

Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Rich Sasser said the envelope held a granular substance. It did not have a return address.

About 3 p.m., the Stanislaus County Hazardous Materials Response Team went into the office. Sasser said their monitors showed there was nothing dangerous, so the hazmat team double-bagged the sealed envelope and turned it over to the FBI.

Authorities determined the granular substance to be tea that fell out of an open tea bag inside the envelope, according to Radanovich's news release.

Protests of big government spending, referred to as "tea parties," have been scheduled around the country as well as in the Central Valley, according to Radanovich. Conservatives, fed up with the economic stimulus, bailouts and big spending in general, are using the tea parties to express their anger.

Radanovich said he supports the movement as a way to bring attention to Washington's out-of-control spending.

"However, it is ironic that more taxpayer money is wasted when a tea bag is mistaken for a toxic substance and first responders are called to investigate," Radanovich said in the news release.

"I think a letter or e-mail would be a more effective and efficient way to communicate the message of support for tea parties and encourage that type of communication in the future."

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In October, Radanovich's Modesto office was the target of an anthrax hoax that crisscrossed the country.

Authorities arrested a Sacramento man in connection with that incident, which involved more than 120 packages labeled "Anthrax Sample," which were mailed to locations nationwide.

Targets included major media outlets in California, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

Radanovich's Coffee Road office was one of the dozens of locations across the country that received one of the packages. The package contained a small pouch the size of a sugar packet labeled "Anthrax Sample" and a biohazard symbol. The packet held a white powder. Preliminary tests on several packages revealed no dangerous substances.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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