Attorney Marilyn Scheer stood shivering outside the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Woodland Hills last month, one of nearly 100 people forced to flee the courthouse during an anthrax scare.
But as her colleagues called concerned loved ones on their cell phones and complained about the cold and inconvenience of being quarantined, Scheer's thoughts kept returning to the Calabasas accountant who had been dodging her for nearly two years--a man she accused in court papers filed last year of "resorting to desperate measures" to avoid giving a deposition.
Harvey Spelkin had been due in court that day, by order of a federal bankruptcy judge.
But once again, Spelkin was a no-show.
"I was never even afraid of anthrax," Scheer said Thursday, "because I was pretty certain it was Harvey."
Four days later, she shared her suspicions with the FBI.
And she wasn't the only one. According to federal court papers, a clerk for the judge who was to preside at Spelkin's hearing also informed agents of Spelkin's conspicuous absence.
A number of times before, Scheer said, Spelkin had put off the bankruptcy proceeding in which he is accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from a former employer, largely by using company checks to pay personal creditors ranging from credit card companies to the Internal Revenue Service.
Spelkin's excuses were many and varied. First, there was a death in the family. Then there were health problems, car problems and just plain no-shows, which postponed the case by months, Scheer said.
On the day of the hoax, she said, "I intended to prove that he had embezzled [an additional] $260,000 from two former clients."
"He's on a downhill spiral," she said. "I can see him disintegrating."
FBI officials said Spelkin, 53, confessed to making an anonymous telephone call to a court worker Dec. 18 and saying the deadly biotoxin anthrax had been released into the building's air-conditioning system. He also admitted that his motive was to put off the day's proceedings, they said.
Arrested Wednesday, Spelkin was released the same day on a $50,000 bond and could not be reached for comment.
Neighbors in Calabasas described Spelkin and his wife as reclusive, and at times combative. Over the past few years, they said, the Spelkins' house has become something of an eyesore in the tidy neighborhood off Mulholland Way.
"I've lived here for 19 years and I haven't said more than three words to them," said Judy Richter.
Alicia Solter, a resident of 20 years, said Spelkin was always an unusual character, "but I never expected anything [like this]."
The Dec. 18 hoax was one of 19 anthrax scares in cities across the Southland over the past three months. There have been dozens more nationwide. Spelkin is the only person who has been arrested in connection with the Southern California incidents.
Authorities have responded to the threats as if they were real, dispatching as many as 150 police officers, firefighters and hazardous-material specialists to the scenes. Officials have put the cost of such responses at about $500,000 each.
On Thursday, City Councilwoman Laura Chick called on federal authorities to make the perpetrator of the Dec. 18 hoax pay for the cost of the response in her west San Fernando Valley council district.
"This case should send a strong and clear message," Chick said. "The public should know that individuals who jeopardize public safety will face not only serious jail time but real monetary consequences as well."
Aside from facing federal criminal charges that could result in life in prison if he is convicted, Spelkin still faces his day in Bankruptcy Court.
He's due back there on Jan. 13.
Times staff writers Michael Luo and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this story.