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Threats to celebrities bring charges

December 02, 2006|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A federal grand jury indicted a Woodland Hills man Friday on charges of sending threatening letters with white powder to half a dozen politicians and celebrities, including incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and television personalities Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann.

The 14-count indictment accuses Chad Conrad Castagana, 39, of sending the letters from Sept. 7 through Nov. 9 to those three as well as Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, comedian and late-night talk show host David Letterman and Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone. The powder turned out to be harmless.

According to an affidavit by Los Angeles FBI Agent Mary Hogan, the investigation began Sept. 6 when agents in New York were called to the apartment of comedian Jon Stewart and found a threatening letter, postmarked from Santa Clarita with an unknown white powder.

The letter, the affidavit says, included a reference to Alan Berg, a Jewish talk radio host who was assassinated by white supremacists in Denver in 1984.

Three weeks later, FBI agents in New York were called to the apartment of Olbermann, an MSNBC commentator, and found a similarly threatening letter also containing an unknown powder. "There are too many demagogues in America," it read. "All of you are poisoning the well! Time to give your kind a taste of your own medicine."

Subsequent letters were sent to "The Daily Show" host Stewart, Olbermann and Letterman before the first threats were mailed to Redstone's office in New York, Schumer's New York City office, and Pelosi's district office in San Francisco, according to the affidavit. The indictment alleges that six letters were sent to Stewart, four to Olbermann and one each to Letterman, Pelosi, Schumer and Redstone.

During the investigation by the FBI, California Highway Patrol and postal inspectors, authorities determined that a money order in the case was made out to "Friends of Katherine Harris," the former Republican secretary of state in Florida who recently lost a bid for U.S. Senate in that state. That money order, according to the affidavit, was traced to Castagana's address in Woodland Hills.

"It appears the individuals were targeted based on what he described as their liberal politics," Assistant U.S. Atty. Donald Gaffney said Friday after the indictment was returned.

"He described himself as a compulsive voter who voted conservatively or Republican and he did not like the politics of these individuals."

The powder in the envelopes, Gaffney said, turned out to be laundry detergent, household cleansers or other products commonly found in the home.

"We have had a number of cases where we have had these hoaxes, whether it was sending fake anthrax in the mail or making a fake bomb threat to a plane," Gaffney said. "These hoaxes consume an enormous amount of investigative time and energy so we take them very seriously, especially when you are talking about a [threatened] chemical or a biological weapon."

Castagana remains in custody in lieu of $350,000 bail.

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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