US man held for mailing suspected ricin

2013-04-18 16:28
Corinth police car prevents access to Paul Kevin Curtis’ house. (Rogelio V Solis, AP)

Corinth police car prevents access to Paul Kevin Curtis’ house. (Rogelio V Solis, AP)

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Corinth - A man accused of mailing letters with suspected ricin to national leaders, believed he had uncovered a conspiracy to sell human body parts on the black market, and claimed "various parties within the government" were trying to ruin his reputation.

Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested on Wednesday at his home in Corinth, near the Tennessee state line.

He was jailed in Oxford, Mississippi, a booking office who declined to give his name, said on Thursday. It was not immediately known what charges Curtis faced.

Curtis had been living in Corinth since December, but local police had not had any contact with him prior to his arrest, Corinth Police Department Captain Ralph Dance told AP on Thursday.

Dance said the department aided the FBI during the arrest and that Curtis did not resist being taken into custody.

Since Corinth arrived in the town, he had been living in "government housing", Dance said. He did not elaborate.

Authorities were waiting for definitive tests on intercepted letters that were addressed to President Barack Obama and Republican Senator Roger Wicker.

False positive for ricin

Preliminary field tests can often show false positives for ricin. Ricin is derived from the castor plant that makes castor oil.

There is no antidote and it's deadliest when inhaled.

An FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by AP said the two letters were postmarked Memphis, Tennessee.

Both letters said: "To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance." Both were signed, "I am KC and I approve this message."

The letters had Washington on edge in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing. As authorities scurried to investigate three questionable packages discovered in Senate office buildings on Wednesday, reports of suspicious items also came in from at least three senators' offices in their home states. The items were found to be harmless.

In Corinth, a city of about 14 000, police cordoned off part of a subdivision where Curtis lived.

At least five police cars were on the scene, but there didn't appear to be any hazardous-material crews and no neighbours were evacuated.

The one-storry, single-family home is similar to the others in the neighbourhood — red brick with white trim.

Neighbours’ concerns

Neighbours, who said Curtis kept to himself and did not seem violent, were concerned by the idea that someone was making poison in the house that sits so close to their bedrooms and front yards.

Next-door neighbour Kayla Latch, 18, lives with her mother and her two brothers and said they were worried that toxic chemicals could be released when investigators enter the home.

"I'm afraid they might open it up and it [poison] might go into the air and hurt someone," Latch said.

Latch said Curtis lived with a woman and a teenage boy when he first moved in, but they appeared to have moved out.

Matthew Latch, Kayla's brother, said he would sometimes hear Curtis playing his guitar outside the house late at night.

Ricky Curtis, who said he was Kevin Curtis' cousin, said the family was shocked by the news of the arrest. He described his cousin as a "super entertainer" who impersonated Elvis and numerous other singers.

"We're all in shock. I don't think anybody had a clue that this kind of stuff was weighing on his mind," Ricky Curtis said in a telephone interview.

Ricky Curtis said his cousin had written about problems he had with a cleaning business and that he felt the government had not treated him well, but he said nobody in the family would have expected this. He said the writings were titled, "Missing Pieces."

Conspiracy theory

A MySpace page for a cleaning company called The Cleaning Crew confirms that they "do windows" and has a profile photo of "Kevin Curtis, Master of Impressions." A YouTube channel under the name of Kevin Curtis has dozens of videos of him performing as different famous musicians, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Kid Rock.

"As far as him being anti-government, I'm not going to say that, but he had some issues with some stuff that happened with his cleaning business," the cousin said.

Multiple online posts on various websites under the name Kevin Curtis refer to the conspiracy he claimed to uncover when working at a local hospital from 1998 to 2000.

The author wrote the conspiracy that began when he "discovered a refrigerator full of dismembered body parts and organs wrapped in plastic in the morgue of the largest non-metropolitan healthcare organization in the United States of America."

Curtis wrote that he was trying to "expose various parties within the government, FBI, police departments" for what he believed was "a conspiracy to ruin my reputation in the community as well as an ongoing effort to break down the foundation I worked more than 20 years to build in the country music scene”.

Letters to officials

In one post, Curtis said he sent letters to Wicker and other politicians.

"I never heard a word from anyone. I even ran into Roger Wicker several different times while performing at special banquets and fundraisers in northeast, Mississippi but he seemed very nervous while speaking with me and would make a fast exit to the door when I engaged in conversation..."

He signed off: "This is Kevin Curtis & I approve this message."

The FBI said there was no indication of a connection between the letters and the Monday bombing in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 170.

The letters to Obama and Wicker were postmarked 8 April, before the marathon.

Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, said mail sent to the White House is screened at a remote site for the safety of the recipients and the general public.

He declined to comment on the significance of the preliminary ricin result, referring questions to the FBI.

At a House hearing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe noted there had been ricin alerts since the notorious 2001 anthrax mailings and procedures are in place to protect postal employees and help track down culprits.

"Over the course of years we've had some situations where there have been ricin scares," Donahoe said.

"Until this date, there's never been any actually proved that have gone through the system."

Read more on:    fbi  |  barack obama  |  us  |  boston explosions

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