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Task Force Captures Suspect Who Mailed White Powder to Celebrities, Politicians

Posted by kinchendavid on November 14, 2006

By Jim Kouri

A counterterrorism task force arrested a resident of Woodland Hills, California, on suspicion of mailing a series of threatening letters containing white powder to celebrities, politicians, media figures and journalists.

Chad Conrad Castagana, 39, was arrested on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006 by members of the Los Angeles JTTF based on probable cause that he violated federal law by conveying false information and sending threats via the U.S mail. Federal prosecutors are expected to file a criminal complaint against Castagana on today.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed Friday, Nov. 10, 2006 in United States District Court in Los Angeles, multiple individuals in various cities, including New York, New Jersey and San Francisco, received letters over the past three months that contained an unknown white powder and various written threats.

The letters, which had fictitious return addresses, were sent to both private residences and media outlets. Some of the individuals who received letters at either their residence or workplace were United States Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California; United States Senator Charles Schumer of New York; Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central; Keith Olbermann of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC; and David Letterman of “Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS.

In some cases, according to the affidavit, the threatening letters included expressions such as “Death to Demagogues” and references to Alan Berg, a Jewish talk radio host murdered by white supremacists in Denver in 1984. Some letters contained photographs of deceased victims of the Indonesian tsunami. Samples of the white powder contained in the letters have been tested, and none of the samples have been determined to be a biological hazard.

Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City, who responded to more than a dozen of the threatening letters, identified Castagana as the individual who mailed the letters after a thorough review of multiple postal transactions conducted with US Postal Inspectors, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Further investigation continued in Los Angeles and on Thursday, Castagana was observed by FBI Agents traveling on foot from his residence to a mailbox located in Woodland Hills. Castagana deposited more than one envelope into the mailbox. The mailbox was later secured by members of the JTTF Hazardous Materials Team and the letters were retrieved. One of the letters was addressed to an individual who had previously been targeted in the series of letters already under investigation.

Once consent was obtained by the addressee, the letter was opened and it was found to contain white powder. The letter was subsequently examined by the Los Angeles County Public Health Laboratory Research Network, which determined the white powder was not a biological hazard.

Members of the Los Angeles JTTF searched Castagana’s home on Saturday and placed him under arrest without incident. Castagana was transported to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, and he is expected to make his initial court appearance before a federal Magistrate Judge in United States District Court on Monday.

“Every time the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is notified that a suspicious letter is received by a victim, dozens of response personnel deploy to the affected location to collect evidence, conduct the necessary investigation and in some cases, evacuation is required,” said J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

“These threats disrupt daily activity and unnecessarily detract from other important work that investigators need to do to keep Americans safe,” he said.

Mark J. Mershon, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in New York, stated: “In this case, there were 13 separate law enforcement responses in New York City alone by members of the FBI’s Hazardous Materials Response Team, the New York City Fire Department, New York City Police Department and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. These incidents divert the critical resources of the first responder and law enforcement communities — resources that should instead focus on real threats to our national security.”

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Postal Service delivers approximately 203 billion pieces of mail each year and keeping the mail safe is among its highest priorities. Investigations by the Postal Inspection Service last year resulted in 92 arrests where the mail was used to threaten, harass or harm victims.

* * * *

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. Kouri has appeared as on-air commentator for more than 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri’s own website is located at http://jimkouri.U.S.

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