EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 28, 2012

Man charged with sending powdery 'hoax' in mail

Police withhold name until court appearance

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Police said they are charging a Haverhill man with mailing a thank-you card containing a powdery substance to a local law office, one of four Merrimack Valley businesses that received similar envelopes.

Police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said complaints have been filed against the man and he will be summonsed to court to face a charge of possession a hoax substance. Thompson would not say when the man will appear in court or discuss where he is currently. Thompson said police do not release the names of suspects until they have either been arrested or appear in court on a summons.

Earlier in the investigation, police said the man is “mentally ill’’ and that the substance turned out to be baking soda in all four cases.

Lawrence police Chief John Romero said he will confer with Haverhill police to determine whether his department will go forward with any charges since the incident involved his community as well. Police have said they believe the same person mailed all the envelopes involved.

The scare happened Nov. 19, when three nearly simultaneous reports of suspicious white powder were reported, prompting a massive response by local and state police, the FBI, the state Department of Fire Services, and the Regional Hazardous Materials Response Team to the Home Depot in Methuen, Home Health VNA in Lawrence, and the Edwards Law Office next to the police station in Haverhill.

Later in the day, another card was received at a North Andover business at 85 Flagship Drive, which also resulted in a response by a HazMat team and investigators.

Later that day, Haverhill police said they had a suspect, but no arrest had been made. Detectives searched an apartment at 46-48 S. Main St. about noon, leaving the scene with several plastic bags containing what appeared to be stationary and other items.

Investigators refused to identify the man, but said “charges are pending.” They also said the man was “mentally ill,” but would not say anything further.

Yesterday, Thompson said that he would not comment on the man, his physical or mental status or where he is at this time.

Last week, police said the investigation was being lead by the FBI because the case involved several local communities.

Katherine Gulotta, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston field office, said last week that preliminary field tests of the powder showed there was no threat to public safety, although additional testing was to be completed at a local laboratory, she said.

Joseph Edwards, owner of Edwards Law Office at 60 Bailey Boulevard in Haverhill, was one of those who received a card. He said the mail came early, about 10 a.m. that morning, and in the pile of letters he received was a small green envelope hand-addressed to him.

He said the handwriting on the envelope was “shaky,” and, although there was a return address on the envelope, there was no stamp. He said he opened the card, and the white powder fell onto his desk. Edwards described the amount of powder as “about the size of my small finger.” He said the card was unsigned.

Edwards said he didn’t panic, but simply called police, who he said responded immediately, sending officers to his office. The station is about 100 feet from his office, on the opposite side of How Street. Edwards said investigators asked him about a specific person’s name, and that he told them he did not recognize it.

Asked if he could think of any reason why someone would choose him to send him such a card, Edwards said he had no idea.