FBI agents and Snohomish County sheriff's deputies took Thanh Cong Phan into custody at his Everett home on Monday night.
A 43-year-old Everett-area man was charged Tuesday with mailing packages containing explosive materials to FBI headquarters and to multiple U.S. military and government agencies in the Washington, D.C.-area.
Thanh Cong Phan faces a single federal count of shipment of explosive materials for allegedly sending multiple packages with each holding “a glass vial/bottle containing an unknown black powder with a fuse, and a small black Global Positioning System (GPS) device,” according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
In a brief initial court appearance Tuesday, Phan told U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue that he understood his Miranda rights before Donohue ordered Phan held on an FBI agent’s probable-cause affidavit and set hearings for the case. Phan next faces a detention hearing on Friday and a first appearance on April 10.
If convicted, Phan faces a maximum fine of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake said Tuesday.
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Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies arrested Phan at his mobile home in South Everett on Monday evening after he called 911 “as he would frequently do,” the federal complaint states. Federal agents already were familiar with Phan, who was known to them for repeatedly sending rambling messages to government agencies, including the FBI
“Initially Phan did not answer the door, but after a period of time he opened the door and was arrested,” the charging papers say.
In all, 11 packages were sent through the U.S. mail and received on or about March 26 by the various agencies, including the Secret Service’s White House mail screening facility, FBI headquarters, the National Geospatial Agency, Ft. Belvoir, and the Dahlgreen Naval Base, authorities say.
Each package contained a typed letter “with ramblings about neuropsychology, mind control, and other subjects including terrorism,” charging papers say. Each package also allegedly included a bottle or vial with black powder and a GPS device. All of the facilities were shut down and evacuated after receiving the packages, causing “considerable disruption to the operations of the government agencies that received them,” the complaint states.
Authorities say one of the suspicious packages received at the FBI mailing facility in Baltimore included a return address to “NAVAL Cpt Mark, 2000 W Marine View Drive, Everett, WA, 98207.” U.S. Postal inspectors later tracked the package to a postal kiosk in Mill Creek, determining it had been sent there on March 16, charging papers say. A postal inspector later obtained a surveillance photograph of Phan making that postal transaction, the complaint states.
“During the past three years, I am aware that Phan has sent hundreds of letters and/or emails to various government agencies containing similar incoherent ramblings as in the packages received by the various government agencies on March 26, 2018,” FBI Special Agent Donald. J. Metcalf wrote in the federal complaint.
Phan often displayed other unusual behavior, according to accounts from neighbors and in court records. In 2011, he was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a handgun following a mental-health call to his home, court records show.
“The defendant made some bizarre statements to (deputies), which gave the deputies concern about the defendant’s mental health and safety,” according to a probable-cause affidavit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court at the time.
Deputies took Phan into protective custody under an involuntary mental-health commitment, and confiscated a loaded .357-caliber handgun from Phan’s backpack, the affidavit states.
“Deputies later learned that the defendant was convicted of Second Degree Assault in 1990 and is prohibited by law from possession (of) firearms,” the affidavit added.
Records indicate the case against Phan was later dismissed after he successfully completed a diversion program for individuals with substance abuse or mental health disorders known as “Therapeutic Alternatives to Prosecution.”
Phan also was arrested by the California Highway Patrol in May 2011 for allegedly driving a stolen SUV near Sacramento following a chase on Interstate 5, according to the Woodland Daily Democrat newspaper.
Early Tuesday, two FBI agents blocked the driveway of the double-wide mobile home where Phan lives near Mariner High School, with one agent saying they were restricting access.
Taped to a car parked outside the home, as well as on Phan’s Facebook page, are statements that reference nonsensical phrases such as “terrorism” and “terro sympathetic.” The Facebook page also describes Phan as a “machinist.”
Neighbor Sharon Reese said Tuesday she rarely talked with Phan, but she noted that he told her something peculiar when she encountered him while retrieving her mail on Monday. “I hear someone, foreign voices, talking in my ear,” she recalls Phan saying.
Reese said she and her son, Mark, have had several incidents with Phan over the past several years. About one to two year ago, she said, Phan sent confusing and rambling letters to the FBI using the Reeses’ return address. The letters were unopened by the FBI, marked “return to sender” and sent to her home, she said.
“I opened mine and it didn’t make sense,” Reese said.
She said Phan also hand-delivered a similar letter to a neighbor across the street.
“Send high frequency my brain unconsciously driving free away Accident,” the letter states. “Send frequency high Heat torture my liver, joint born, back leg nerve muscle calf make me weak feel pain disable handicap.”
The Reeses said they were concerned with mail fraud so they reported it to the sheriff’s office. Mark Reese said a sheriff’s deputy told him there’s not much the sheriff’s office could do because Phan “has bigger problems than that.”
The FBI, U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Secret Service continue to jointly investigate the federal case against Phan. “It is possible that further packages were mailed to additional mail processing facilities in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area,” the FBI said in a statement Tuesday.
The suspicious packages allegedly sent by Phan were discovered less than a week after suspected Austin, Texas bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt blew himself up as law enforcement was about to arrest him.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf and staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this report.