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Iowan Arrested in 'Bishop' Pipe-Bomb Case

Federal authorities Wednesday charged a Dubuque, Iowa, man with sending threatening letters and two pipe bombs to financial services companies in an effort to drive up certain stock prices for his own gain.

John P. Tomkins, 42, was arrested on his way to work Wednesday morning as a machinist for a Dubuque factory. Authorities accuse him of being the mail bomber who called himself "the bishop."

Beginning about two years ago, several investment firms, mostly in the Midwest, reported getting menacing letters from someone who often signed them as "the bishop." Authorities say he sent at least 16 letters that they know about, threatening to harm company employees, executives, their families and their neighbors, if they didn't drive up the share prices of certain stocks. Officials identified those companies as Minnesota-based Navarre Corp., and Massachusetts-based 3COM; he often demanded shares be pushed to $6.66.


The letters fit a pattern of becoming increasingly threatening as time went on, with messages such as, "You owe it to us to make things right or I will make your life as miserable as mine."

Some of them pointed out how easy it is to kill: "When you stop and think about how easy (it is) to kill somebody, it is almost scary," read one of the letters, which mentioned Washington, D.C., sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. One threatening letter made a comparison to another, more famous letter bomber. It read, "Just think, it could be as simple as mailing a package like the Unabomber used to do it."

Another letter ended with the threat, "times running out," and "tic - toc." Then, in late January, an investment firm in Kansas City and another in Chicago received pipe bombs, each accompanied by a note that read, "bang — you're dead!"

"Both of those explosive devices would have worked but for the fact that one wire was not attached," said Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who announced the charges. "And, in fact, the letters he sent with the devices pointed out that if the wire had been attached, serious harm would have been caused to the person who opened the letters."

Seeing the pattern of escalation, investigators feared the next packages might kill. Many agencies, including the FBI, ATF, the U.S. Postal Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission, worked to find "the bishop." They cracked the case, in part, through a complex analysis of financial investment records. The analysis showed that Tomkins was the only individual investor who would gain from the stock price manipulations demanded in the letters.


Investigators found other evidence, too, as Tomkins allegedly purchased materials that could be used to make a pipe bomb using his own credit card. And when one executive received a threatening letter with a photo of his home taken from a car, agents were able to identify the make and model of the car: a 1993 Chevrolet Lumina four-door.

Tomkins owns the same make and model, and experts said the sliver of the auto's interior that was showing in the photo matched Tomkins' car.

Tomkins appeared briefly Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge

Sidney I. Schenkier in Chicago's federal courthouse. When asked if he understood his right to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney, he said "yes.".

Schenkier ordered Tomkins held in custody pending a hearing Monday afternoon on whether he should be released on bond. He is being represented by a public defender, who would not comment on the case.

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