Federal agents in Mississippi arrested a martial arts instructor early Saturday as part of an investigation into ricin-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and two other officials.
The man, J. Everett Dutschke, was taken into custody at his home in Tupelo, Miss., shortly before 1 a.m., a spokeswoman for the FBI in Jackson, Miss., said.
Dutschke’s arrest came after criminal charges were dropped Tuesday against another Mississippi man, Paul Kevin Curtis, who said he had been framed by Dutschke, a longtime personal rival.
Letters postmarked from Memphis, Tenn., and filled with a white powder were received this month by Obama; Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and Sadie Holland, a judge in Lee County in Mississippi. Tests confirmed that the powder was ricin, a poison made from castor beans that can be lethal.
The letters read: “Maybe I have your attention now even if that means someone must die. This must stop. To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” They were signed: “I am KC and I approve this message,” a phrase Curtis had used on Facebook.
Curtis, 45, was arrested and charged, but he was freed days later after the FBI said it could find no evidence that he was behind the plot. The inquiry then turned toward Dutschke, who lawyers for Curtis said had framed their client. Last week, FBI agents searched Dutschke’s house.
Law enforcement officials said the letters were carefully crafted to mimic the characteristic phrasing and concerns of Curtis.
The FBI had earlier searched Dutschke’s home and his martial arts studio, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus. A law enforcement official in Tupelo said his arrest was uneventful. “He walked out and they took him into custody,” Sgt. James Hood of the Tupelo Police Department said. “No problem or anything.”
A lawyer for Dutschke did not immediately return a message Saturday, and police officials referred questions to the U.S. attorney in Oxford, Miss.
Dutschke and Curtis had a tangled past. For more than a decade, Curtis has been trying to expose what he said was an organ-harvesting scheme at a hospital; a few years ago, when Dutschke was putting out a local newsletter, Curtis publicly challenged him to print an article about his accusations against the hospital. Another time, Dutschke admonished Curtis for posting a fake Mensa certificate online. Curtis’ family viewed the rebuke as so severe that they consulted with a lawyer about legal action.