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May 22, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Man arrested in Spokane in connection with ricin letters

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS / Associated Press

SPOKANE — A 37-year-old man was arrested today in connection with a case in which a pair of letters containing the deadly poison ricin were discovered in Washington state last week.

A grand jury indictment accused Matthew Ryan Buquet of mailing a death threat to U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle at the federal courthouse on May 14.

A search of federal court records turned up no indication that Buquet had ever appeared before Van Sickle, or had any connection to the judge.

The indictment did not mention ricin. However, the U.S. Postal Service said last week that two letters were intercepted — one addressed to the courthouse and the other to the downtown post office — and they contained ricin in a crude form that did not immediately pose a threat to workers.

Buquet appeared in federal court in Spokane after the FBI said agents arrested him this afternoon. He pleaded not guilty.

The short, balding Buquet wore dark-tinted glasses and was shackled in court. He gave brief yes and no answers to questions from U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno.

Imbrogno ordered him held without bond until a bail hearing scheduled for next Tuesday. A public defender was appointed for Buquet.

If convicted of mailing a threatening communication, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby declined to comment after the hearing, and little information about Buquet was immediately available.

Ricin is a highly toxic substance made from castor beans. As little as 500 micrograms, the size of the head of a pin, can kill an adult if inhaled or ingested.

There were no reports of illness connected to the Spokane letters.

Investigators in hazardous-materials suits spent most of Saturday executing a search warrant at a three-story apartment building in downtown Spokane. Witnesses reported that agents escorted a man from the building.

The Spokane investigation comes a month after letters containing ricin were addressed to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a Mississippi judge. A Mississippi man was arrested in that case.

Associated Press writer Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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