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Man charged in anthrax hoax to plead guilty

Friday, September 19, 2003

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At the height of the nationwide anthrax panic in the fall of 2001, 19-year-old Chad Michael Olson sent an envelope addressed to himself at the Salvation Army office in Washington, Pa., where he worked.

When secretary Jeannie Owens opened it, a white substance spilled out of a letter that read: "This is for you."

Chaos ensued as police, a hazardous materials team, the fire department and finally the FBI responded.

Olson eventually confessed and told agents the stuff wasn't anthrax, just sugar.

Even so, he was charged with the federal crime of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Now, after exhausting all options in fighting the indictment, he will appear in U.S. District Court on Monday and plead guilty.

His decision came yesterday after a hearing at which his lawyer tried to convince Senior U.S. District Judge William Standish that the incident was just a hoax and not a true threat.

In arguing her motion to dismiss the indictment, federal public defender Crystina Kowalczyk said because the letter contained no "threat of future conduct" the charge shouldn't apply.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Picking argued that it should.

"What we have here is a threat to spread anthrax at the Salvation Army," she said. "Mr. Olson did make a threat. He made a threat to use a weapon of mass destruction."

Standish agreed.

"I think it's a threat and I'm denying the motion," he said.

Monday's plea will end a bizarre case that began Oct. 18, 2001, when Owens opened the letter.

Olson, now 21, of Hawkins Street in Washington, sent the envelope because he wanted to be a hero to his co-workers. Jennifer Lohr, a Salvation Army receptionist, previously testified that Olson told her he had hoped the letter would create a panic so he could then put everyone's fears to rest by showing that it was only sugar.

Olson was previously released on $10,000 bond, but he didn't stay out of trouble. On March 5, Donegal police charged him with rape, statutory rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and other sex offenses in connection with an assault on two boys last summer.

Because that offense occurred while he was out on bond in the federal case, the U.S. attorney's office asked that his bond be revoked. Standish didn't revoke the bond but ordered Olson to stay at home on electronic monitoring.

The state case is pending.


Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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