Sacramento Man Sentenced to 51 Months in Prison for Sending Anthrax Hoax Letters

SACRAMENTO—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that Marc M. Keyser, 66, of Sacramento, was sentenced today to 51 months in ...

SACRAMENTO—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that Marc M. Keyser, 66, of Sacramento, was sentenced today to 51 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, by U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. in Sacramento. Calling him a danger to the community, Judge Damrell ordered Keyser remanded into custody to commence serving his prison sentence. A further hearing is set to determine the restitution owed by Keyser for the costs of responding to the hoax letter.

Keyser was convicted by a jury on September 17, 2009 of three counts of committing an anthrax hoax and two counts of mailing threatening communications. The case was investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Wagner and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Hobler.

Evidence presented at trial established that in January 2007, Keyser mailed a package to the Sacramento News & Review, promoting a book that he had written about potential anthrax attacks in the United States by terrorists. The package included a copy of the book on CD, a note offering to discuss publication of excerpts of the book, and a cylindrical aerosol canister labeled “Anthrax.” The mailing resulted in the evacuation of the building and a full law enforcement and hazmat response. An investigating FBI special agent interviewed Keyser at that time, informed him of the consequences of the mailing, and specifically admonished him that he risked prosecution under the hoax mailings statute if he sent any similar mailings in the future.

According to court documents, including Keyser’s own testimony at trial, in late October 2008 Keyser mailed over 100 packages that contained a CD with excerpts of a new book on terrorism that was labeled in large print “Anthrax Shock and Awe Terror” and a small sugar packet that had been re-labeled with a bio-hazard symbol and the words “Anthrax sample.” Most of the packages had no information indicating that the CD contained a book. The mailings were sent to various newspapers and other media companies, officials, and retail outlets nationwide, causing police, fire, and hazmat teams to respond to emergency calls in many states.

The counts on which Keyser was convicted relate to a mailing received by Congressman George Radanovich’s office in Modesto, California and mailings received at McDonald’s and Starbucks restaurants in Sacramento. An employee of Congressman Radanovich’s office testified during the trial that following receipt of Keyser’s mailing, police, fire department, and hazmat personnel responded to the scene, and two employees were transported to the hospital for medical screening.

Keyser stated to investigating agents that he intended the mailings to be “provocative” and that he hoped the controversy and “buzz” generated by news reports about the mailings would heighten awareness of anthrax vulnerability and spur sales of his book. The jury acquitted Keyser on eight other counts in the indictment.

In sentencing Keyser, Judge Damrell told Keyser that “you want attention more than anything, you crave it. The attention you get is more important than the effect you have on others.”

U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner stated, “Hoaxes like these hurt our national security, draining critical resources from investigation of and preparation for real threats against our homeland. Today’s sentence sends a strong message to anyone considering imitating Mr. Keyser’s fake anthrax packages—there are real consequences for those who behave like terrorists.”

Parole has been abolished in the federal system, and Keyser will be required to serve at least 85 percent of the prison time imposed today.

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