WASHINGTON — Call it a case of slow mail but quick justice: a man who police say sent a threatening letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was arrested two weeks before Hatch even received it.
Worse, the letter was mailed months ago.
The weird timing comes from mail delays in Congress caused by the anthrax scare, and how multiple copies of the same threatening letter were handled differently.
Milton Thomas Black, 61, of Las Vegas was arrested on Jan. 2 in Nevada on a federal charge of transmitting threatening interstate communications.
A complaint says Black wrote threatening letters addressed to Hatch; Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
An Associated Press story earlier this month said police in Washington had sent one of the letters to Las Vegas officials in September. However, because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they were unable to investigate promptly.
The investigation was reopened when Colorado Gov. Bill Owens belatedly received another copy of the letter on Dec. 21 and turned it over to officials.
Chris Rosche, Hatch's press secretary, said U.S. Capitol Police had asked Hatch's office if it had ever received a copy of the letter. When a search did not find it, police asked staffers to watch for it.
Of course, mail was horribly delayed in Congress three months ago when a letter containing anthrax spores was delivered to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Because of it, all mail then in Congress was bundled, stored, searched and finally irradiated to kill anthrax before it was finally delivered.
So just this week, Hatch's copy of the threatening letter finally arrived — and was quickly turned over to Capitol Police.
"We didn't really see the postmark," Rosche said, but he figures it was mailed months ago. He said thousands of letters from October have been delivered to Hatch's temporary offices in recent days. His permanent office in the Hart Senate Office Building is still closed because of anthrax cleanup.
Rosche said staffers only glanced at the letter "that had a lot of profanity and sentences that didn't make much sense." He said it was a copy of a letter written to Reid of Nevada, and most threats appeared aimed at him, but it made some vague references to Reid "and others."
"So we don't know if Sen. Hatch was threatened directly," Rosche said.
The complaint against Black for the earlier received letter said he wrote, "I'm coming to Wash. D.C., get a gun + ammo, + start paying you . . . back." In the letter, Black allegedly complained no one would pay attention to information he had developed in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case.
Investigators say Black ended letters by threatening to douse Reid with gasoline. Letters were signed by a "Sergeant Black," and investigators tracked down Black through a return address he put on one of the letters.