March 31, 2011

LePage not the only threat target

By David Hench
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- A Portland man charged with sending threatening letters to Gov. Paul LePage admitted to agents that he sent those and other threatening letters to national political figures, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, according to testimony Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Authorities also found a gun and an ammunition clip in Michael Thomas' desk drawer when he was arrested Friday, FBI Special Agent Pamela Flick testified; and Thomas told her that if they had showed up later, he would have launched a shootout with police.

LePage received three letters attributed to Thomas, saying among other things that the author was willing to sacrifice his life to shoot the governor. Thomas told agents on Friday that he would follow through on the threats if he had the means, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Neumann.

"This is escalating behavior. This is a very dangerous individual," she said. "The defendant has done nothing but instill fear in the victim and in the community."

Following a 90-minute hearing, Judge John Rich III ruled that Thomas, 50, poses a danger to the community and will be held until trial. Thomas sat passively throughout the hearing and showed no emotion as he was led from the hearing room in handcuffs and ankle shackles.

Rich based his ruling in part on convictions Thomas had for violating probation in 1999 and 2000, incidents that he said showed Thomas could not be trusted to abide by rules established by the court.

The testimony Wednesday portrayed a man suffering from mental illness, including antisocial and paranoid disorders for which he was deemed disabled in 2002. He also has a history of sending threatening letters.

Thomas was convinced in 1998 and 1999 of threatening and harassment in connection with disturbing letters he sent to people who had been classmates of his at a Massachusetts preparatory school, people who he said had bullied him, Flick said.

Thomas also sent letters with white powder to police agencies in past years, letters that were intended to provoke fear akin to the post-Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax scares, she said.

Thomas admitted sending threatening letters similar to those sent to LePage to U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., as well as Walker, Snowe and Collins, she said. Thomas described himself as a liberal Democrat and a communist and said he is a strong proponent of gun rights.

Thomas' lawyer, J. Hilary Billings, argued that his client should be released under house arrest, with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet to ensure he doesn't leave, and that he have his mail screened and that he be barred from using a computer.

"This isn't somebody who is going to be spasmodically violent," he said. "He has a degree of paranoia, but there's no evidence of any (violent) actions on his part."

The gun Thomas bought in Houlton in 2004 for personal protection has never been fired, he said. Despite all the threats going back years, Thomas was never charged with physically harming anyone.

Billings conceded that the country is keenly aware of the possibility of attacks on political figures following the Arizona shootings allegedly carried out by Jared Loughner.

"To take this kind of sick, disabled individual" Billings said of Thomas, "and the only way to respond to him is imprisonment, it's a response of fear. ... The response doesn't have to be one of fear. It could be one of compassion."

Thomas does not have a car and depends on Social Security disability insurance and food stamps to survive, Billings said. He sees a therapist once a week but is not on medication. He did attempt suicide in the 1980s but was never hospitalized involuntarily, Billings said.

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