Threatening letters suspect appears in court in Washington state

TACOMA, Washington Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:29pm IST

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TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - A man suspected of sending about 100 threatening letters to members of Congress and the media last month made his first appearance on Monday in federal court in Washington state, where a judge ordered him sent back to Oregon.

The mass mailing of the menacing envelopes, which were postmarked in Portland and contained a white powdery substance later determined to be harmless, triggered a security alert on Capitol Hill and among several media outlets.

Authorities have yet to discuss a possible motive for the letters.

A federal indictment returned last Friday against Christopher Lee Carlson, 39, charged him with one count of mailing a threatening communication to a member of Congress and one count of mailing a letter threatening to use a biological weapon to a U.S. senator.

If convicted of both offenses, Carlson, who authorities said resided in the vicinity of Portland and its Vancouver, Washington, suburbs, faces a combined maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

He was arrested at his home on Friday. Unshaven and wearing a white T-shirt and Khaki pants for his brief court appearance in Tacoma on Monday, Carlson acknowledged that he understood the charges and waived his right to an identity hearing.

Judge Richard Creatura then signed an order of transfer that will keep Carlson in detention until he is handed over to authorities in Oregon. No further proceedings were immediately scheduled in the case.

The threatening letters began showing up on Capitol Hill and in offices of lawmakers on February 22. A number of media organizations and television shows, including The New York Times, National Public Radio and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," also received such mail.

In 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, deadly anthrax-laced letters were sent to several news organizations and Senate offices.

Five people were killed and 17 sickened from those letters, which ultimately were traced by federal investigators to a lone U.S. Army scientist who committed suicide in 2008.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby and Teresa Carson; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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