WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A US Navy veteran from Utah was charged on Friday (Oct 5) with threatening President Donald Trump, Defence Secretary James Mattis and two other high-ranking officials by mailing them letters containing castor beans, from which the deadly poison ricin is extracted.
The criminal complaint, filed in US District Court in Salt Lake City, charges William Clyde Allen III with one count of threatening to use a biological toxin as a weapon and four counts of mailing threatening communications.
He could face up to life in prison if convicted, said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City.
The charges stem from letters Allen is accused of sending Sept 24 addressed to Trump, Mattis, FBI director Christopher Wray and Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US naval operations.
The envelopes contained ground-up castor beans and a note reading, "Jack and the Missile Bean Stock Powder," according to an FBI affidavit filed with the complaint.
None of the letters reached its intended recipient and no one was hurt, officials said.
The accused perpetrator, who ended his four-year service in the Navy in 2002 as a seaman apprentice, was not hard to find.
Each envelope bore Allen's name and return address, and he confessed sending the letters with castor beans he had purchased online, the affidavit said. Allen was arrested on Wednesday at his home in Logan, Utah, about 130km north of Salt Lake City.
A motive for the threats was unclear. The affidavit said Allen told investigators he mailed the letters "to send a message" but did not elaborate.
The FBI said each envelope tested positive for ricin in two different laboratory examinations, but neither the complaint nor the affidavit explicitly allege they were tainted with ricin itself.
The Pentagon has said the two envelopes intercepted there were found to contain only ground castor seeds, which are harmless but triggered the ricin alert.
Extracting ricin from castor beans "is relatively easy and does not require technical expertise" but is dangerous, the FBI affidavit stated.
Tiny doses are lethal to humans if ingested, inhaled or injected, causing death within 36 to 72 hours of exposure. There is no known antidote.
Authorities said Allen has threatened the government before, including an email he sent the CIA in 2015 threatening to kill then-president Barack Obama, and a bomb threat he made against an Air Force Base in Texas last year.
Allen was presented with the charges at his initial court appearance on Friday before a US magistrate judge in Salt Lake City and was ordered to remain in the custody of federal marshals at least until a detention hearing set for Oct 15, Rydalch said.
A public defender was appointed to represent him but was not immediately available for comment.
No plea has been entered in the case.