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FBI, Postal Service Raise Anthrax Reward to $2.5 Million

Aired January 23, 2002 - 13:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go now to that press conference just getting underway in West Trenton, New Jersey, where we expect to hear the official word about the reward being doubled in the search for the anthrax letter sender.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PETER HARVEY, NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: What you see here, housed (ph) in the State Police, is an example of that cooperation. Namely the state -- the anthrax task force which is made up of U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, the State Police, Division of Criminal Justice for the state of New Jersey, U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as other local law enforcement agencies.

In a moment, you are going to hear from Kevin Burke of the Postal Inspection Service as well as Kevin Donovan of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they are going to talk to you specifically about the work that the task force has been doing here in connection with the New Jersey State Police.

Let me identify some local officials who have been involved in the process. Skip Woletzki (ph); chief sheriff's officer here in Mercer County, Joe Lech; the Mercer County Sheriff; Deputy Chief Paul Meyer of the Trenton Police Department; first assistant prosecutor in Mercer County, Chuck Waldron.

So, without further delay, let me give you Kevin Burke of the United States Postal Inspection Service.

KEVIN BURKE, POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE: Good afternoon. The mission of the Postal Inspection Service is to protect the Postal Service, its employees, and its customers from criminal attack.

Protecting the nation's mail system from criminal misuse has never been more challenging. The four confirmed anthrax mailings have continued to require a commitment of investigative resources in New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., Florida, and Connecticut.

Responses to anthrax hoaxes, threats, and suspicious mailings have strained law enforcement resources throughout the country. During this period, over 15,000 incidents of suspicious mailings, hoaxes, and threats have been reported to the inspection service. As a result, over 540 postal facilities have been closed for periods of time. Well, we have a message for those who would use this time to contribute to the unrest and terror. If we find you, we are going to arrest you and we are going to prosecute you. So far, 71 individuals have been arrested by Postal Inspectors, FBI agents, and State and Local law enforcement authorities.

Postal Inspectors have a long, proud, and successful tradition of aggressively pursuing these criminals who attempt to use the mails to defraud or endanger the American public. We will continue that tradition until these criminals are caught, and brought to the bar of justice. Our law enforcement and security efforts will continue to ensure the confidence in the mail as a safe and security means of commerce and communication.

To that end, we are announcing today the mailing of an updated reward flier. These fliers will be mailed to approximately 500,000 postal customers in the areas of South -- Central New Jersey, and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The reward has been increased to $2.5 million. The source of these funds is the Postal Service, the FBI, and ADVO Industries of Hartford, Connecticut.

ADVO, one of the nation's largest direct mail marketing companies has chosen to participate because ADVO believes in helping law enforcement in its efforts, much the way it does with America's looking for its Missing Children program that many of us see every Saturday morning when we receive the mail. Jack Dearing, senior vice president for security and safety, is here to answer questions directly at the conclusion of this briefing.

I bring your attention to the flier, and I'd like to make a few comments on it. As you can see, the reward has been upped to $2.5 million. Specific in -- in the center of the flier, there are the four known mailings, emanating from Trenton -- I want to make the specific point in saying that this is a letter -- embossed letter envelope. This is a business envelope. This may be integral to the public's interest in help they can provide to us. This is the type of envelope that was used for each of the mailings, not the larger business type envelope. It's an embossed Iron Eagle, Blue Eagle 34 cent envelope.

We believe the persons responsible for these acts obviously have a scientific background and work history which may include a specific familiarity with anthrax, and have a level of comfort in and around the Trenton, New Jersey area due to present or prior association.

I'd like to comment and just say that this individual responsible for these acts may well be a neighbor, may be a work associate, or we're very, very comfortable that the people in the public in this part of New Jersey and possibly on the other side of the river in Pennsylvania, can contribute very important information that would help us piece together some of the pieces of this puzzle, and bring this investigation to a successful resolution.

With that, its my pleasure to introduce my counterpart, the special agent in charge, the Newark division of the FBI, Mr. Kevin Donovan (ph). KEVIN DONOVAN, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI: Good afternoon.

In an attempt to identify the individual who mailed the anthrax- laced letters from the Trenton area in September and October last year, we are once again reaching out to the American public.

More specifically, we are reaching out to the postal customers of the Trenton area, as well as the adjacent communities in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The fliers will be available at major transportation centers, such as the train station, the bus terminal and the airport and Trenton. As we conduct this investigation, locally and follow leads wherever they may take us throughout the United States and the world, we must remember the unsuspecting victims.

To date, five individuals have lost their lives to anthrax. We keep them in our hearts, and we work hard to make sure that there are no more victims of this tragedy. Robert Stevens, a newspaperman, a grandfather, an avid outdoors-man, Joseph E. Kersen Jr., a postal worker, who was the president of the Neighborhood Community Association. He helped to build playgrounds and a park. He was a loving husband. Thomas L. Morris Jr., a postal worker, who was a loving husband, a father and a son, and two stepchildren. Mr. Morris was the president of the Tuesday Morning Bowling League. Kathy Nguyen, a quiet lady, who won the hearts of her neighbors and coworkers. Ottilie Lundgren, 94 years old, was very active in the Manuel Lutheran Church. She is described as a gracious lady who fancied lobster, and never missed a Saturday hair appointment.

In addition, 13 people have been personality affected by anthrax, including a 7-month-old baby. These people were indiscriminately exposed to anthrax. It invaded our workspace, it invaded our homes, it invaded our lives without warning. We are reaching out to you to make sure that there are no more victims. We want to make sure our children, our families, our homes and businesses are not innocently exposed to anthrax. The standing reward has been increased to $2.5 million for the arrest and conviction of the individual responsible for the mailing of the four anthrax-laced letters from the Trenton, New Jersey area.

In partnership with the United States Postal Service, approximately 1/2 million fliers will be distributed to homes and business in Trenton, New Jersey and the adjoining communities. We ask that you take a moment to read the fliers. Look, again, at the handwriting on the envelope, and if you have any information that could help us identify the individual who mailed these letters, please call us. Pick up the phone and make the call. You may have the one piece of evidence or the one piece of information that helps us resolve this case.

Thank you.

Questions and answers.

QUESTION: Can you tell us basically, is the reason for these fliers the fact that you really at a dead end, that you don't have any leads any more? DONOVAN: I don't think it's that we don't have any leads. We're looking out for that one person who may be able to give a specific information to help us utilize the investigation that's already been conducted, and the scientific information that the laboratories around the United States are trying to give us so we can focus on that information to identify one particular individual.

QUESTION: Are you saying you do have leads then?

DONOVAN: I would say that our investigation is very aggressive. It's wide-ranging, and we follow every lead that comes to us, and this is just effort to develop additional leads to focus on, maybe an individual did not come to our attention.

QUESTION: Are you saying, short of a golden tip, you don't have anything to put someone in custody, right?

DONOVAN: I would be very happy to say today that we have someone we're ready to arrest. But at this point, we're continue our investigation, focusing on whatever leads are developed as a result the investigation throughout the United States.

QUESTION: And the fact you're looking for, you believe in all honestly. He's a local person?

DONOVAN: I think the assessment of our behavioral science people. I think the investigators here and around the United States that this individual has a familiarity with the Trenton, New Jersey area, that there is something that brings them here, either past association or current association. It's a transportation center, which is why we're putting the fliers out to transportation hubs. We believe that individuals familiar with coming here.

QUESTION: And local? Does he live here, do you believe?

DONOVAN: Will are not saying that he's local here. He could have lived here at one time. He could have relatives here, and Kevin Burke said it very well, that it could be a former neighbor, it could be an individual who was here previously at a job assignment. That's the kind of information that we're really focusing on.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the universities that you visited? Have you yielded anything valuable?

DONOVAN: I won't give you specific answers on those, but I can tell you that we have, as part of our logical investigative leads, focused on some of the universities. I know that you've seen some press reports about our investigation out there.

That's a normal part of our investigation, to try develop information and develop investigative leads.

QUESTION: Story mentioned that you are looking at the photocopy machines at Rutgers University. What is it about the photocopy machines that are connected to the letter. Were some of the letters copied on the photocopy machine? DONOVAN: I think there are some things I said before when we appeared before you that we wouldn't give out, because it may hinder the investigation. There are indications if I comment on some of those things now, we will not be able to use for investigative purposes at a later date in time.

QUESTION: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) still alive somewhere around New Jersey?

DONOVAN: I think we do. The letters were mailed from here. There is a familiarity with this area. I think that we believe that this individual knows this area well enough to mail the letters from here. We're hoping that by putting this poster out, that we're able to focus on some of the unusual parts of the envelope that maybe somebody would be able to say, this is what I saw one of my loved ones mailing one day, the handwriting is similar. That's what our focus is. We're trying to ask the public to give us those unique clues only they know as a result of association with the individual.

QUESTION: You keep saying he. Do you have any type of profile on this person that you can rule as he or she or does or doesn't have?

DONOVAN: I think I just took that as just a general comment. Our investigation, as I said, is wide-ranging. We haven't precluded any possibilities, that it could be male, could be female, could be any other individual. Something I would say I was using liberally.

QUESTION: Why hasn't he tried again? Do you believe he has, and have you caught other letters that should have received -- that should have gone through the system?

DONOVAN: I think you would have heard, as we've done in the past. We would comment on whether we have received the letters and communicate with those people that are involved in receiving the letter. I can't give you a reason why that individual has not surfaced at this point.

QUESTION: How many investigators are actually total, on the whole, been looking at the whole nationwide anthrax thing?

DONOVAN: I don't think I can give you nationwide numbers, but I can tell you that it's just about every FBI field office, postal facility, postal inspection service, participating, the New Jersey State police clearly here. As Peter Harvey mentioned, the division of criminal justice here, full partners, the chiefs and all of the local law enforcement.

QUESTION: Clearly, we are talking about thousands, I would assume, of investigators. What is the difficulty -- I mean, like the Unabomber took 20 years to find him. Can you just talk about, just in general, the difficulty of kind of piecing this together?

DONOVAN: Very briefly. I think part of the issue here is that we're focusing right now on a historical crime that we need to be able to put together, either forensically, or through interviews with individuals, or through handwriting analysis, information that will positively identify that individual. So our focus is to use a wide- range of investigative tools to allow us to focus on that individual, and hopefully charge someone.

QUESTION: What do you mean by historical crime? You mean, if someone commits a murder fairly recent, and you are able to gather evidence pretty quick? Is that what you mean?

DONOVAN: It's a crime over a period of time now that we are trying to focus back on and re-create some of the crime that occurred.

HARRIS: We are going to step out at this particular point away from this press conference in West Trenton, New Jersey, where we have the official word here, the FBI, the Postal Service, is issuing out here some 500,000 new fliers that will have details on them, to help call some more investigative leads they say, and try to find out who mailed the four anthrax-laden letters that came out some months ago. This flier will feature pictures of the four letters themselves, and what they are asking people to do is to look at these envelopes and to see whether or not the handwriting or something else about these letters actually triggers some sort of memory to turn information.

They've actually doubled the amount that's offered as a reward here. The original reward has been some 1.2 million. Now it's up 2.5 million. To anyone that can help them with some investigative leads that might lead to someone being taken in for this particular crime.

Let's go now to our Susan Candiotti who has been covering this for us from our Washington bureau -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Leon.

The FBI and the U.S. Postal Service both convinced that obviously someone mailed these four known letters, as they put it, from the Trenton, New Jersey area, and so they are sure they remain confident that someone might have seen these letters being mailed. These are preframed letters, with the stamp already on them, or someone who might recognize the handwriting on those letters. And so that is in part why that are doubling the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the anthrax killer, or killers, up to $2.5 million. You see a copy now of the flier that will be mailed out.

Authorities are not saying, however, that the anthrax that was sent through the mail was produced in the New Jersey area, or even that the person who made it, produced it, lives in that area. However, they do think, at the very at least, that whoever is responsible is certainly familiar with the Trenton, New Jersey area where the four known letters were mailed. And we do know that investigators have been working in the New Jersey area as well as other areas in particular.

Conducting interviews, at various locations, including at some universities, where at the very least, there are bioengineering departments, and, in fact, where there are xerox machines, because each of the letters sent through the mail is a xeroxed copy. And even though it's a long shot, there is a possibility that authorities would be able to track down the particular copy machine that was used to produce these letters -- Leon.

HARRIS: Susan, I also caught them saying that one thing that's been slowing them down is they had to response to some 15,000 hoaxes and suspicious mailing and all. Put no idea whether or not they've reached a dead end, and that's the reason why they're issuing out this call for public to come in and help them right now?

CANDIOTTI: Well, they're certainly having trouble trying to get to the bottom of it. I think they would take issue with admitting that they're at a dead end, but they certainly do need the public's help. They are looking at all kinds of leads, and certainly in the beginning, they had to, they were stymied by -- or setback by having to investigate those 15,000 hoaxes, which have slowed down, but they haven't stopped.

HARRIS: One more important thing, they say the suspect may have A scientific background. Keep that in mind, folks.

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