Agawam Man Pleads Guilty to Threatening a Federal Prosecutor and Unlawful Possession of Ricin
|U.S. Attorney’s Office March 28, 2011|
BOSTON—An Agawam man was convicted today in federal court of illegally possessing the deadly toxin ricin and using the mail to threaten a federal prosecutor.
MICHAEL CROOKER, 57, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to one count of mailing a letter containing a threat to injure an officer or employee of the United States and one count of possessing the toxin ricin without obtaining required registration. CROOKER, who has been held in custody on various matters since June 23, 2004, will remain incarcerated until his sentencing.
At today’s plea hearing, the prosecutor told the court that had the case proceeded to trial, the government’s evidence would have proven that law enforcement agents arrested CROOKER on June 23, 2004 on a federal complaint charging him with using the U.S. mail to transport a firearm. Agents also searched CROOKER’s Agawam apartment the same day and discovered what appeared to be a weapons lab along with various dangerous or deadly chemicals that could be used to make powerful explosives. Agents also discovered castor seeds, which are the source of the deadly poison ricin; abrus seeds, which are the source of the deadly poison abrin; and all of the materials needed to extract ricin and abrin from the seeds such as acetone, lye, laboratory glassware, and coffee filters. Agents later searched CROOKER’s parents’ residence, where CROOKER had stored additional chemicals and castor seeds.
While CROOKER was in jail awaiting trial on the firearms charge, he told two fellow inmates that he knew how to make ricin, had made ricin in the past, and possessed ricin. He told one of them how to manufacture ricin and explained the process for doing so. CROOKER also discussed how ricin could be sent through the mail, placed on food, or blown into a person’s face to cause death.
On July 22, 2004, angered over by his arrest and the various searches, CROOKER sent a letter to the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the firearms case and invoked the name of Timothy McVeigh, the individual responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma federal building bombing. CROOKER wrote: “As Martyr McVeigh’s T-shirt says: 'The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by blood of patriots and tyrants.'” CROOKER challenged the prosecutor to “bring on your [expletive deleted] and I'll bring on mine,” and warned that even an imprisoned person could cripple the U.S. Postal System by sending toxins through the mail.
On July 26, 2004, CROOKER sent a letter to the Westfield Evening News stating that he had offered to “cooperate and get any WMD’s (if they exist) off the street” if the government dropped the firearms charges he was facing. CROOKER suggested that the items would otherwise “fall into the hands of people” like Mohammed Salemah, who was convicted of participating in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. CROOKER and Salemah met in the 1990s when both were incarcerated in federal prison in California.
In August 2004, CROOKER’s father was cleaning a window on his property and unearthed a buried vial of powdered ricin. The quantity of ricin in the vial was enough to kill 150-750 people. In letters to family members, CROOKER admitted to possessing the ricin and indicated it had been there as long as three or four years.
Judge Woodlock scheduled sentencing for June 20, 2011. CROOKER faces up to 15 years in prison, to be followed by up to three years of supervised release and a maximum of $500,000 in fines. As part of a plea agreement, the parties will both recommend that the court impose the maximum 15-year sentence.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Division, Guy N. Thomas Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Office and Robert Bethel, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William D. Weinreb, Donald L. Cabell and Jeffrey Auerhahn of Ortiz’s Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit.