A Fruitland Park man accused of mailing white powder to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office last month in an envelope bearing an index card labeled “anthrax” has been charged in federal court with mailing threatening communications.
Federal authorities also allege that Jerry Stinchcomb, 50, sent similar letters to various entities in Orange, Sumter and Volusia counties, each of which used lettering that appeared to have been generated with a label-maker.
Postal employees in Fruitland Park, alerted to be on the watch for the distinctive envelopes after a letter-carrier found one in a corner mailbox, intercepted six more envelopes between April 30 and May 16. Four had white powder inside.
A postal inspector tested the powder and determined it was not the bacteria that causes anthrax, a potentially deadly disease.
A rescue worker in a biohazard suit carries a letter suspected to contain anthrax viruses from a newspaper bureau in Germany in 2001. An employee found sugar-like granules in the letter with a bomb warning. (AXEL SEIDEMANN / AP)
If convicted, Stinchcomb could be sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. A detention hearing is set for Friday.
According to the federal complaint, between Dec. 1, 2017, and May 31, 2018, a series of envelopes containing a white powdery substance and threatening letters were mailed to addresses in Lake, Volusia, Sumter and Orange counties.
All contained a white powdery substance and document with the word “anthrax” written on it using black label-maker printing. Field tests proved negative for the biologically hazardous bacteria, an FBI affidavit said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by bacteria known as “bacillus anthracis.” It causes skin, lung, and bowel disease and can be deadly if inhaled, injected or ingested.
Those mailings caused local HAZMAT teams, the Florida Department of Health, local law enforcement and other agencies to respond.
Two letters intercepted by Fruitland Park postal authorities were addressed to an individual identified by the FBI by the initials “L.V.”
Both envelopes bore Stinchcomb’s name and home address — and the letter inside complained about “L.V.” hiring a new lawn-care man who “will charge you $80 to do your yard whether it needs it or not.”
The letter, written in all caps and littered with misspellings and poor grammar, declared the new yard man is unreliable.
“I have talked to people who said so. You get rid of him & have me come back. I will be happy to. You still owe me $50.00 from the last time I did your yard. You can mail the cash to me,” the letter said. “I hope we still be freinds. I will like you to call me back when your yard is ready. He has done a poor job on your yard. He has missed a few spots. I will do better for you. Thank you, Jerry.”
Stinchcomb had mowed L.V.’s yard for five or six years before discontinuing his services because Stinchcomb’s equipment frequently broke down, leaving the lawn unfinished.
The letter-carrier who found the first envelop in the corner mailbox knew Stinchcomb as the owner of a lawn-care business and recalled chatting with him about lawn care.
An FBI agent assigned to the case staked out Stinchcomb’s home and watched him walk to the mailbox and drop an envelope into the outgoing mail slot.
The next day, a postal worker found an envelope in the mailbox addressed to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office on Ruby Street in Tavares. It was marked with the black label-maker printing.
Inside was an index card marked with the word “anthrax” in the same black print.
Investigators eventually identified Stinchcomb as the person responsible for mailing an anthrax hoax letter May 30, using a Fruitland Park postal collection box.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with assistance from other law enforcement agencies.