DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ A few weeks ago he was helping out at a fish fry and playing with his kids.
Now, John Tomkins is charged with being ``The Bishop,'' the person federal authorities say mailed threatening letters and pipe bombs to financial institutions.
Tomkins, 42, of Dubuque, was arrested on his way to work Wednesday morning. He was whisked away to Chicago, where he appeared in court on charges of mailing a threatening communication with intent to extort and one count of possession of an unregistered explosive device.
Authorities say Tomkins sent pipe bombs to two investment firms in an effort to drive up stock prices in two small companies he had invested in. The bombs, which would have been live had a single wire been connected, came with threatening letters signed ``The Bishop,'' authorities have said.
After months of investigating, Securities and Exchange Commission experts pinpointed Tomkins because of his ownership of a combination of stocks and other securities in Navarre Corp. and 3COM Corp.
Investigators also said a car in a photograph sent in one of the packages fit the type Tomkins drives, and that his handwriting matched that on some of the envelopes.
Neighbors and friends said they were in disbelief about Tomkins' arrest.
Rick Tittle, Sr., the manager of a local Eagle's Club where Tomkins once served as president, said it was hard to believe the man he's known for 25 years was ``The Bishop.''
``It's so out of character for him,'' Tittle said. ``He's a good, decent person.''
Tittle said Tomkins was active in fundraising events for local charities, including a fish fry for charity just three weeks ago.
Tittle said he didn't notice anything unusual about Tomkins.
``He was just his usual self _ happy-go-lucky, same-old John,'' Tittle said.
Tittle said Tomkins, who once served as president of the club, was a dedicated family man.
``He's a decent person,'' Tittle said. ``John is far from being a criminal. He's not a violent person at all.''
A neighbor described the machinist and former part time mail carrier as a ``quiet but friendly'' person who frequently played with his three daughters in the yard.
Connie Bennett said Tomkins' wife, Julie, was a stay-at-home mother who had been a Girl Scout cookie chairwoman for several years.
``Everyone in the neighborhood is in shock and disbelief,'' Bennett said. She said she spoke Thursday with Julie Tomkins and that she and the children were staying in ``a safe place.''
An after hours telephone message seeking comment from Tomkins' attorney, Rose Lindsay, was not immediately returned. She previously declined comment on the case.
Telephone messages left Thursday for two of Tomkins' brothers were not immediately returned. A woman at the Adams Co., where John Tomkins worked, said the company was not commenting.