WASHINGTON — Again and again for more than five years, police, sheriff’s deputies and moon-suited hazardous material teams rushed to respond to the discovery of hundreds of letters mailed from northern Texas to government offices, schools, aerospace companies and even foreign targets, each containing a mysterious white powder.
All of the more than 500 letters were determined to be harmless hoaxes -- but only after expensive screenings had been conducted to ensure the powder wasn’t anthrax, ricin or some other deadly toxin. And not until after waves of anxiety hit those who received the letters, some of which declared, “Al Qaeda back! Special thing for you.”
On Monday, the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced that they have finally caught the hoaxster.
The bureau and Postal Service arrested a Rowlett, Texas man, Hong Minh Truong, 66, on a criminal complaint charging him with false information and hoaxes.
Truong appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Irma Ramirez, who ordered that he remain in federal custody.
“We believe Hong Minh Truong is responsible for the hundreds of letters sent to locations worldwide, including U.S. government offices, aerospace companies, schools, daycares and recently, hotels in the vicinity of Super Bowl XLVIII,” said Diego Rodriguez, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas Division. He lamented the diversion of first responder resources and the loss of tax dollars.
According to the complaint, law enforcement has identified more than 15 batches of similar letters sent from the Dallas area since December 2008, all but two of which contained a white powder. It said that the language in the letters and the method of sending them pointed to one person, Truong, as the mailer.
One batch of letters warning of an Al Qaeda attack, and likely conjuring memories of the anthrax letters that killed five people and sickened 17 others on the East Coast in 2001, ranted: “What the hell where are you Scooby Doo, Counter Intelligence, CIA, you do not know how to catch the triple dealer spy in your law enforcement. What the hell where are you Scooby Doo, Internal Affairs, FBI, you don’t know how to arrest the bad cop in your law enforcement.
“You all flaming idiot, ignorant and arrogant, know nothing! How to protect this country!”
Those letters were sent to pre-schools and elementary schools across the country, as well as to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s office in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Another batch last year was sent to 28 public schools in Boston. An inquiry into those mailings identified a computer address in Rowlett associated with Truong, the FBI said.
R.L. Faulkerson, inspector in charge of the Postal Inspection Service’s Fort Worth Division, said the arrest should “send a warning to those who seek to terrorize the American public through powder letters, real or hoax.”