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How Dust Masks, Text Messages, And Web Searches Led The FBI To The New Ricin Suspect

Suspicious-letters--2
AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis

The feds have stopped short so far of charging Dutschke with actually mailing ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), and a Mississippi Justice Court judge named Sadie Holland. But the newly-revealed evidence includes laboratory analysis concluding documents found in Dutschke's home were printed on the same printer as the ricin letters.

The feds initially charged an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis because of similarities between the mailings and his online writings. In the affidavit unsealed Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Stephen E. Thomason described how Dutschke first came to the attention of investigators after Curtis and his relatives suggested Dutschke may have set him up.

"Curtis and his family members informed the agents that Dutschke and Curtis have known each other for several years and have had a contentious personal relationship which has manifested itself in e-mail traffic and social media postings," Thomason said in the affidavit.

After they were told about Dutschke's feud with Curtis, Thomason said investigators interviewed an unnamed witness who detailed a series of disturbing statements allegedly made by Dutschke.

"The witness stated that, years ago, Dutschke told the witness that he could manufacture a 'poison.' Dutschke stated that he could place the poison in envelopes and send them to elected officials," said Thomason. "Dutschke concluded by stating that whoever opened these envelopes containing the poison would die. According to the witness, on or about the same occasion, Dutschke made reference to having 'a secret knowledge' for 'getting rid of people in office.'"

Thomason said this witness also explained that they had an "altercation" with Dutschke after "Dutschke made sexual advances toward the witness's daughter." According to Thomason, Dutschke filed a civil suit against the unnamed witness in 2006. That suit was dismissed by Judge Holland, who later received one of the ricin-tainted letters. Dutschke also lost a 2007 campaign for state office against Holland's son.

After speaking with this witness, investigators went through trash from Dutschke's home that had been removed by "waste management personnel" on Monday, April 22. Thomason said this trash included paper that was "similar in color" to the paper used in the poisoned letters, address labels that potentially matched those used in the ricin mailings, and a "dust mask." Also on April 22, FBI agents tailing Dutschke observed him removing things from his taekwondo studio, driving away, and then "discarding several items through the window of the vehicle into a public garbage receptacle." A subsequent search of the trash can revealed "the box for a Black and Decker Smart Grind coffee grinder, a box containing latex gloves, a dust mask, and an empty bucket of floor adhesive." Thomason said latex gloves, dust masks, and coffee grinders can all be used in the manufacture of ricin.

"Based on my training and experience, I know that a coffee bean grinder could be utilized in the process of extracting ricin from castor beans," explained Thomason. "Furthermore, latex gloves and a dust mask could be utilized as personal protective equipment while the castor beans are being crushed to protect the producer from an accidental exposure."

Thomason said all of the items allegedly thrown out by Dutschke were sent to a lab for testing. According Thomason, three tests on the dust mask were "positive for the presence of ricin."

Dutschke was already facing child molestation charges in Mississippi unrelated to the ricin investigation. Due to those earlier charges against him, Dutschke had turned over his laptop, a hard drive and flash drives to the local authorities. Thomason said the FBI obtained a warrant to search these items and uncovered incriminating online activity.

"The search revealed that, on the evening of December 31, 2012, someone using the computer downloaded a publication, Standard Operating Procedure for Ricin, which describes safe handling and storage methods for ricin, and approximately two hours later, Immunochromotography Detection of Ricin in Environmental and Biological Samples, which describes a method for detecting ricin," said Thomason.

On April 23, FBI agents searched Dutschke's home in Tupelo, Miss. His taekwondo studio was searched the following day, which Thomason said also yielded items that "tested positive for the presence of ricin." The same day, Thomason said, "agents obtained records indicating that Dutschke ordered castor bean seeds utilizing eBay and paid for the seeds via PayPal."

"Specifically, Dutschke paid for 50 red castor bean seeds on or about November 17, 2012," said Thomason. "He made a second purchase of 50 red castor bean seeds on or about December 1, 2012."

According to Thomason, the FBI also obtained text messages "between the cellular number for Dutschke's wife, and a cell phone also subscribed to by Dutschke's wife and used by her son," and a friend of the wife. These messages allegedly describe efforts to "burn some things," "clean house," and avoid "searching" that were sent as investigators began to focus on Dutschke.

The final piece of evidence against Dutschke in the affidavit is results of an analysis "document examiners employed by the FBI Laboratory" performed on hundreds of documents taken during the search of Dutschke's home. Thomason said this analysis found "numerous" printed documents show indications they were printed on the same printer used for "the three ricin letters."

View the full criminal complaint and supporting affidavit below:

Supporting Affidavit In United States of America v. James Everett Dutschke

Criminal Complaint In United States of America v. James Everett Dutschke

About The Author

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Hunter Walker is a national affairs reporter for TPM. He came to the site in 2013 from the New York Observer. He has also written for New York Magazine, Gawker, the Village Voice, Forbes, The Daily, and Deadspin. He can be reached at hunter@talkingpointsmemo.com