Seventeen days after Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law opened a letter that contained white powder and a threatening note, federal investigators have found their suspect. A Massachusetts man will go to court later today for the hoax attack aimed at Donald Trump Jr and which briefly sent his wife Vanessa to the hospital for precautionary tests. The substance turned out to be cornstarch, but that won’t matter much in a federal prosecution for mailing threats:
MORE: Daniel Frisiello of Beverly, MA sent at least five letters containing white powder in last several weeks, U.S. Postal Inspection Service says, the first of which was addressed to Donald Trump Jr. and called him an "awful, awful person."
— ABC News (@ABC) March 1, 2018
Hoax or not, Frisiello could spend a long time in prison for his stunt. Federal officials will likely charge him under 18 USC 876 (b), which carries a potential 20-year sentence per count:
Whoever, with intent to extort from any person any money or other thing of value, so deposits, or causes to be delivered, as aforesaid, any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of the addressee or of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
His attorneys may argue that (c) applies better, which doesn’t mention extortion as one element, and which carries a five-year maximum sentence per count. However, if federal prosecutors want to deliver a message, (b) can still apply even without the element of extortion. Note carefully that the language uses or in relation to “any threat to injure the person of the addressee or another.” Given who the intended victim was, bet on a maximum charge. [See second update below.]
In fact, the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts has filed ten counts against Frisiello:
USA #Lelling announces arrest of Massachusetts man Daniel Frisiello who allegedly sent letters containing suspicious white powder to 5 high profile individuals @FBIBoston @USPIS_BOS pic.twitter.com/wjUtpLd8XV
— U.S. Attorney MA (@DMAnews1) March 1, 2018
Frisiello allegedly sent five such letters, so they’re nailing him with two crimes each: the threat and the hoax. Frisiello also appears to have a bipartisan sense of outrage. One of his other targets was Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat from Michigan facing re-election this year, according to the Associated Press:
Daniel Frisiello, of Beverly, was arrested Thursday. He is expected to appear in federal court in Worcester later Thursday. It could not immediately be determined if he has a lawyer.
Federal authorities say he also sent letters containing powder to four other people, including the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan.
The letter to the president’s son was opened by Vanessa Trump on Feb. 12. She called 911 and reported she was coughing and felt nauseous. She was hospitalized briefly.
How do you draw a line between Stabenow and Donald Trump Jr? Only by going through Crazytown. That may be the best line of defense that Frisiello’s attorneys have, assuming investigators got the right man in these cases, but it’s very tough to sustain an insanity defense, especially for someone who went through all the trouble to mail his attacks to specific people.
Update: At the same AP link, the story has been expanded to include the identities of the other victims. One was Antonio Sabato Jr, a Trump supporter and well-known model who has launched a campaign for Congress. The others are a US Attorney in California named Nicola Hanna and Stanford University professor Michele Dauber, who has campaigned to recall the judge in the controversial trial of Brock Turner.
That’s a rather eclectic set of targets, but the attack on a US Attorney will almost certainly mean that the Department of Justice will pursue the strongest version of the law. Frisiello may be looking at a very, very long time in prison.
Update: I lost my bet. The US Attorney for Massachusetts now has a press release up on the arrest, and it appears they’re charging him under (c) instead. However, that doubles in the one count involving the other US Attorney:
The charge of mailing a threat to injure the person of another provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, 10 years in prison for threats addressed to a federal official, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of false information and hoaxes provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
What was his beef with Hanna? She prosecuted a child porn case in which the defendant committed suicide:
The second envelope was addressed to Nicola T. Hanna, the Interim United States Attorney for the Central District of California. Also postmarked in Boston on Feb. 7, 2018, the envelope contained an unknown suspicious white powder, which spilled out when it was opened. The letter inside the envelope bore the following printed message:
That’s for murdering Mark Salling! I
Hope you end up the same place as Salling.
As alleged in court documents, Mark Salling, who committed suicide in January 2018, was a defendant in a child pornography case being prosecuted by Hanna’s office.
It appears that the letters all went out about the same time. One of them was a glitter bomb which may have given investigators their break, emphasis mine:
Further investigation revealed that Professor Dauber was also sent a “glitter bomb.” A glitter bomb is a letter containing glitter sent to an unsuspecting individual that, when opened, spills out onto the recipient. Law enforcement traced financial records to Frisiello who ordered and paid for the glitter bomb to be delivered to Professor Dauber. Furthermore, on Feb. 21, 2018, agents recovered trash from Frisiello’s residence that appeared to contain remnants of the cut-out messages that Frisiello allegedly sent to the victims.
Maybe Frisiello’s defense could be incompetence.
Update: NBC reports that Frisiello is cooperating with prosecutors, which might explain the (slight) leniency in the charges:
The powder in the letters was not dangerous. The FBI said Frisiello — who said on his Facebook page that he works for Catholic Charities — is cooperating. He is charged with mailing threat to injure and false information and hoaxes.
Each letter had a different complaint and referenced recent news events — from the sexual abuse conviction of former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to the sexual assault case of former Stanford student Brock Turner.
If you’re interested in Frisiello’s Facebook page, it’s here. There’s not much on it to suggest that he’d do something as insanely stupid as what has been alleged, but there is a reference to Stabenow on it that might explain why she got one of the letters. After she expressed sympathy for the father who tried to attack USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at his sentencing hearing, Frisiello wrote [sic]:
Good god now the democrats are going of the rails. This is not the democratic means and i am embarrassed to be in part of the same party as her, because i am not her. I would be offended if anyone i know in the democratic party has the dame feelings and thoughts of this imbecile of a senator!
Not exactly an intellectual giant, but still, it just sounds like typical Facebook emoting in the moment. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time rolling past February 5th, and frankly there’s not much reason to do so. Whatever drove Frisiello to do this doesn’t make much of an appearance in his memery.