Suspect in hoax anthrax scare had done it before

By: AP
By: AP

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A California man suspected of mailing more than 120 hoax anthrax letters to media outlets was interviewed previously by the FBI after a similar mailing in 2007, but he was not charged.

Marc M. Keyser, 66, was interviewed by the FBI in January 2007 for allegedly sending a package containing a small aerosol can labeled "Anthrax," along with a compact disc, to the Sacramento News and Review newspaper, according a criminal complaint filed Thursday in federal court.

Keyser told agents then that he was using the mailing as a publicity stunt for a novel he had penned, and "to model what would happen if terrorist were to use anthrax ... to show the amount of anthrax a terrorist might spray into the air conditioning system in a shopping mall." The can did not contain anthrax.

Agents warned Keyser that he violated federal law and could be prosecuted, but they didn't arrest him. Agent Filip Colfescu said in the complaint that Keyser at the time apologized for the hoax "and told agents they should not worry, that he would not be doing it again."

The FBI did not immediately return a message seeking comment about the 2007 interviews.

Keyser was arrested without incident at his home in Sacramento on Wednesday and is being charged with three counts of sending hoax anthrax threats by mail. At least some of the packages had Keyser's return address on them, and agents found 11 more packets in Keyser's car, according to the complaint.

None of the packets has so far tested positive for hazardous material, the agency said.

Keyser was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon. It wasn't known Thursday whether he had a lawyer.

The investigation began after The Atlantic magazine received a letter Monday. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis and the Boston Herald received similar letters Thursday.

Media outlets in North Carolina, California and Washington state also have received the letters, as has Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., and a Sacramento McDonald's. Offices were evacuated in some cases.

Anthrax mailed to congressional offices and others in 2001 killed five people and sickened 17.

The packages linked to Keyser contained a sugar packet labeled "Anthrax Sample" along with a biohazard symbol, the FBI said in a news release. The CD was titled "Anthrax: Shock & Awe Terror," which Keyser said was the title of his new book.

FBI agent Steve Dupre said more of Keyser's mailings will probably be received over the next few days. Recipients should contact their local FBI office, he said.

Keyser's ex-wife, Terri Keyser-Cooper, a civil rights attorney in Reno, Nev., said she was shocked to learn of the arrest when reached by The Associated Press.

"Oh, my God. I have not been in touch with him for years. I have no idea what he's been up to. I cannot imagine him doing any criminal activity," said Keyser-Cooper, 61, who divorced Keyser in 1982. "He certainly was very mild-mannered. He was not in any trouble that I know of."

Keyser had been investigated in 1998 by the Postal Service for mail fraud in regards to thousands of fake collections letters that were sent out by a nonprofit organization started by Keyser, the AIDS Action League. A postal inspector determined that Keyser's scheme didn't violate federal law because he wasn't trying to profit from it.

Records show that state and federal tax collectors had placed liens against the AIDS Action League in 1998 and 2001. They also show a number of other corporations and organizations listed at Keyser's previous address, including Business Terror Watch, Homeland Defense and World AIDS Organization.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., and AP researcher Julie Reed in New York contributed to this report.

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