Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
Colorado man faces prison, hefty fine for lying about terror threat
Matthew O’Neill pled guilty to lying to federal investigators about mailing threatening letters containing white powder to Colorado tax collectors.
O’Neill, 52, faces five years in prison and a quarter million dollar fine for the offense, said the FBI’s Denver office on Feb. 17.
Charges against O’Neill stem from a 2011 incident in which a mail room employee at the Colorado Department of Revenue received a legal-sized manila envelope with a return address of “M. O’Neill . . . Kremmling CO.” The letter was mailed to the “State of Colorado; Colorado Dept of Revenue; 1375 Sherman Street; Denver, CO,” according to court documents. The envelope bore Kremmling, CO post marks. The mail room employee opened the envelope, stapled documents that were inside and routed it to the intended recipient, a common processing step for mail at the for Colorado Department of Revenue. The recipient put the envelope on her desk, at which point an unidentified white powder fell out of it. The employee then took the contents to another person’s office, set it on the desk, and left the office and locked the door. They then notified the floor manager who immediately contacted the Colorado State Patrol and 911. They both believed they had both been exposed to some kind of harmful chemical or biological substance, and tried to decontaminate themselves by washing their hands. They then waited for the Denver Fire Department and the Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) team. The building was subsequently evacuated.
The HAZMAT team, in full protective gear, entered the building, located the material and tested it, believing it could be an unknown hazardous material. It turned out to be sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The letter’s intended recipient at Department of Revenue’s said O’Neill has sent several documents expressing his views as a sovereign citizen, and beliefs he doesn’t have to pay state or federal taxes. She also said that she felt threatened by the contents of the envelope, fearing that the white powder was some sort of harmful substance.
FBI and Postal Inspectors determined that O’Neill had been in and out of the Kremmling post office days earlier, even filling out paperwork for certified or registered mail before mailing the letter.
“Those who mail a threat, especially one containing material simulating a biological or chemical agent, will face felony criminal consequences,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
“All threatening communications are taken seriously, the recipient of these types of threats cannot determine the true nature of the implied, or stated danger,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge James Yacone. “The FBI wants to remind everyone that mailing a threatening communication that contains a hoax of any kind in a parcel will be aggressively investigated. We will continue to respond to such threats, along with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, through the combined resources of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
Though the powder contained in the mailing was not harmful, the threatening mailings not only constitute a federal crime, but cause alarm to victims and victim institutions,” said Denver Division Acting Postal Inspector in Charge Tommy Coke. “Postal Inspectors will continue to ensure the safety of the U.S. Mail through aggressive investigation of anyone who mails these types of threats—real or hoax.”