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updated: 4/18/2013 12:24 AM

Mississippi man accused in ricin letters case

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  • A Prince George's County, Md. firefighter dressed in a protective suit walks out of a government mail screening facility in Hyattsville, Md., Wednesday, April 17, 2013. Police swept across the U.S. Capitol complex to chase a flurry of reports of suspicious packages and envelopes Wednesday after preliminary tests indicated poisonous ricin in two letters sent to President Barack Obama and a Mississippi senator.

      A Prince George's County, Md. firefighter dressed in a protective suit walks out of a government mail screening facility in Hyattsville, Md., Wednesday, April 17, 2013. Police swept across the U.S. Capitol complex to chase a flurry of reports of suspicious packages and envelopes Wednesday after preliminary tests indicated poisonous ricin in two letters sent to President Barack Obama and a Mississippi senator.
    Associated Press

 
By Holbrook Mohr
Associated Press

OXFORD, Miss. -- A Mississippi man was arrested Wednesday, accused of sending letters to President Barack Obama and a senator that tested positive for poisonous ricin and set the nation's capital on edge a day after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested at 5:15 p.m. at his apartment in Corinth, near the Tennessee state line about 100 miles east of Memphis, said FBI Special Agent in Charge Daniel McMullen. It wasn't immediately known where he was being held.

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Authorities still waited for definitive tests on the letters to Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican. Preliminary field tests can often show false positives for ricin. The letters were intercepted before reaching the White House or Senate. Ricin is derived from the castor plant that makes castor oil. There is no antidote and it is at its deadliest when inhaled.

An FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by The Associated Press said the two letters were postmarked Memphis, Tenn.

Both letters said: "To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance." Both were signed, "I am KC and I approve this message."

In Corinth, a city of about 14,000, police cordoned off part of a subdivision where Curtis lived. At least five police cars were on the scene, but there didn't appear to be any hazardous-material crews and no neighbors were evacuated. The one-story, single-family home is similar to the others in the neighborhood, with red brick with white trim.

Ricky Curtis, who said he was Kevin Curtis' cousin, said the family was shocked by the news of the arrest. He described his cousin as a "super entertainer" who impersonated Elvis and numerous other singers.

"We're all in shock. I don't think anybody had a clue that this kind of stuff was weighing on his mind," Ricky Curtis said in a telephone interview.

Ricky Curtis said his cousin had written about problems he had with a cleaning business and that he felt the government had not treated him well, but he said nobody in the family would have expected this. He said the writings were titled, "Missing Pieces."

A MySpace page for a cleaning company called The Cleaning Crew confirms that they "do windows" and has profile photo of "Kevin Curtis, Master of Impressions." A YouTube channel under the name of Kevin Curtis has dozens of videos of him performing as different famous musicians, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Kid Rock.

"As far as him being anti-government, I'm not going to say that, but he had some issues with some stuff that happened with his cleaning business," the cousin said.

Multiple online posts on various websites under the name Kevin Curtis refer to the conspiracy he claimed to uncover when working at a local hospital from 1998 to 2000.

In one post, Curtis said he sent letters to Wicker and other politicians.

"I never heard a word from anyone. I even ran into Roger Wicker several different times while performing at special banquets and fundraisers in northeast, Mississippi but he seemed very nervous while speaking with me and would make a fast exit to the door when I engaged in conversation..."

He signed off: "This is Kevin Curtis & I approve this message."

Tensions were high in Washington and across the country following Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 170. The FBI said there was no indication of a connection between the letters and the bombing. The letters to Obama and Wicker were postmarked April 8, before the marathon.

Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, said mail sent to the White House is screened at a remote site for the safety of the recipients and the general public. He declined to comment on the significance of the preliminary ricin result, referring questions to the FBI.

Capitol Police swiftly ramped up security, and lawmakers and staff were cautioned away from some parts of the Hill complex. After hours of jangled nerves, officials signaled it was safe to move throughout the area and people settled back to normal, if watchful, activity.

At a House hearing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe noted there had been ricin alerts since the notorious 2001 anthrax mailings and procedures are in place to protect postal employees and help track down culprits.

"Over the course of years we've had some situations where there have been ricin scares," Donahoe said. "Until this date, there's never been any actually proved that have gone through the system."

Wicker in a written statement thanked the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police for "their professionalism and decisive action in keeping our family and staff safe from harm."

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