Letter sent to governor's office possibly rigged to ignite

Similar envelopes sent to governors in 19 other states

Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Juneau postal workers intercepted a letter to the office of Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday that was similar to others across the nation that were rigged to ignite when opened.

Nevada FBI Special Agent Todd Palmer said similar letters with the same return address began appearing at governors' offices across the country last Thursday. He said the letters bear a return address, rubber-stamped on the back of the envelope, from Ely State Prison, a maximum-security prison in Nevada.

"We are trying to confirm that it's the actual point of origin of these letters," Palmer said. In addition to the 19 letters sent to governors' offices, an igniting letter was sent to the Nevada Department of Corrections, he said.

Postal inspectors from Anchorage arrived in Juneau on Monday to investigate the letter, Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said. The inspectors planned to return to Anchorage with the letter.

Hultberg was unsure whether the Alaska envelope was rigged to catch fire. But she said the governor's staff was told the letters that arrived at other state offices around the nation were rigged to set themselves on fire when opened.

"We've been told that it is a rather crude device," she said. "There is a match and a striker, so when you open the letter the match strikes and ignites to start a fire."

Juneau Postmaster Kent Eriksen said that after the letters began arriving at governors' offices around the country on Thursday, the Juneau Post Office was directed by federal authorities to isolate all mail headed to Murkowski's office for further inspection. He discovered the letter on Friday at the Mendenhall Post Office.

"All letters were isolated and separated from the normal mail stream and placed in a room, so if it caught on fire it would be safe," Eriksen said.

Palmer said none of the 20 letters sent have resulted in injury and none have contained any message. At least three of the letters caught fire.

Palmer said the FBI is working with local law enforcement officials, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. postal inspectors to find who mailed the letters.

The Associated Press reported Monday that similar letters were intercepted in offices in Virginia and West Virginia. The letter that arrived in Richmond never threatened Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, said Bill Leighty, the governor's chief of staff. The letter, addressed to "executive chambers" in the state Capitol, was uncovered at a central postage-handling facility, Leighty said.

A letter to Gov. Bob Wise of West Virginia was intercepted there.

"It's a sad reminder that we live in a dangerous world," Warner said during a break in the Southern Governors Association conference, being held in Richmond.

The letters listed one of two Ely inmates as the sender, but authorities are not sure if either prisoner was involved, Glen Whorton, assistant director for the Nevada Corrections Department, said last week.

"We're not assuming the names on the envelopes are simply the end of the matter," he said. "Investigators are not just talking to the two inmates."

Letters were sent to governors' offices last week in Nevada, Montana, Hawaii, Nebraska, Colorado, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Arizona.

The Montana Capitol was partly evacuated Thursday when the match burned the letter open there, but there was no further damage.

All mail bound for Virginia's executive offices on the third floor of the state Capitol is routed through an off-site receiving facility to protect the governor and his staff.

"We've done it for this very reason," Leighty said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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