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California man charged with threatening congressman

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • Charles Turner Habermann, 32, is accused of leaving two threatening voicemails last month
  • The alleged threats were against the life of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington
  • The timing of the charges is not related to the Arizona shooting, an official says

(CNN) -- A 32-year-old man from Palm Springs, California, was arrested Wednesday on federal charges of threatening U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, in two profane phone messages to McDermott's Seattle office, prosecutors said.

The messages were left, according to court records, as Congress was debating a tax and unemployment insurance bill that was eventually passed and signed into law on December 17.

Charles Turner Habermann was scheduled to make his initial appearance in a federal court in Riverside, California, at 3 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) on Wednesday, authorities said.

The filing of Wednesday's charges was not related to Saturday's mass killings in Tucson, Arizona, in which a congresswoman was severely wounded. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is facing several federal charges, including killing a federal judge and trying to kill a member of Congress, a spokeswoman for a federal prosecutor said.

"Investigations take a certain of time, but the decisions regarding this case were made prior to the events in Arizona," Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan in Seattle, told CNN. Langlie cited how a similar case was filed last year in another instance of an individual threatening another member of Congress.

Habermann is charged with threatening a federal official in two voicemails on December 10, according to the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle. That charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, prosecutors said.

In the first voice message, a man authorities identified as Habermann threatens to kill McDermott, his friends and family.

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"I'll round them up, I'll kill them, I'll kill his friends, I'll kill his family, I will kill everybody he (expletive) knows." Habermann allegedly said in the voicemail message, according to an affidavit filed in federal court by FBI special agent Dean W. Giboney.

"I'd like to remind you McDermott that if you read the constitution all the money belongs to the people. None of it belongs to government," Habermann allegedly said in the voicemail, according to the affidavit.

In the second message 10 minutes later at 12:10 a.m., Habermann says he will hire someone to put Congressman McDermott "in the trash."

"I'll pay people, I'll pay my friends, I, I grew up in Chicago just like your scum bag (expletive) Jim McDermott did," Habermann allegedly said in the voicemail. "And I'll tell you something right now. Garbage belongs in the trash. That's exactly where he's gonna end up. You understand that?"

In the messages, Habermann stated he had seen McDermott on television, and he allegedly threatens him and other Democrats for their views on tax cuts and unemployment insurance, prosecutors said.

The alleged threats to kill McDermott were an effort to intimidate and interfere with the congressman's vote on the tax cut proposal last month, authorities said.

"We are blessed to live in a country that guarantees and protects the freedom to disagree with our government and speak our minds," Durkan said in a statement.

"That protection, however, does not extend to threats or acts of violence. Those actions are intended to silence debate, not further it. They instill fear not just in the immediate victims, but in many who might hold the same views or take the same course," said Durkan.

When FBI agents later interviewed Habermann on the same day he left the messages, he said he had been drinking alcohol before making the calls, and he had wanted to let politicians know that spending taxpayer's money was wrong, the FBI affidavit said.

The FBI also questioned Habermann about allegedly leaving a threatening message on the voicemail of a congresswoman who represents a district outside California, but that congresswoman isn't identified in court documents and prosecutors declined to comment further, Langlie said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

Regarding the McDermott case, Habermann told agents that he never had any intention of hurting anyone because he had too much to lose, referring to a $3 million trust fund, the affidavit said.

Habermann was investigated in March 2010 for other voicemail threats to kill a California Assembly member, who wasn't identified in the affidavit.

Habermann also went to the state legislator's office on March 18, 2010, and "began ranting about the current federal health care bill and how Habermann was 'very well off' and did not want to support immigrants and Latinos," the FBI affidavit said.

"Habermann was described as agitated, paranoid, uneasy and couldn't keep still," the affidavit said.

On March 24, California Highway Patrol investigators interviewed Habermann at his Palm Springs apartment, and he said he was intoxicated and had smoked marijuana when he left the voicemails for the California legislator, the FBI affidavit said. Habermann said he used medical marijuana for depression, and he apologized for the voice messages, the affidavit said.

The officers issued Habermann a warning, the affidavit said.