Investigators search home of former worker in connection with Yale bombing

Friday, June 6th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- Investigators looking into last month's bombing at Yale Law School searched the home of a former library worker who was previously convicted of stealing rare books and documents from Yale.

Benjamin Johnson, 23, was jailed Wednesday after federal agents searched his parents' house in suburban Hamden, where he had been on supervised release. Officials said they revoked his release because of the investigation.

Johnson pleaded guilty in 2001 to stealing $2 million worth of rare books and papers from Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and then selling them over the Internet.

The library is across the street from Yale Law School, where a May 21 explosion damaged some rooms but caused no injuries.

Authorities Friday would not say what they were looking for at Johnson's house or whether they found anything linking him to the bombing.

His lawyer, Penn Rhodeen, said Johnson had nothing to do with the bombing and has no grudge against Yale, which he said has treated Johnson fairly.

"What you have is a situation where people decided he would be a logical person to think about in connection with some other investigation they have in mind. They have to do their jobs," Rhodeen said.

During Johnson's regular meeting with his community service officer, who was overseeing his supervised release, the officer found a notebook in Johnson's backpack that contained notes about explosives, Rhodeen said.

Rhodeen said that Johnson, an aspiring writer, would often jot down "exciting passages" from thriller novels as he read them. Rhodeen said he had not seen the notebook in question, but he had seen another notebook Johnson kept that had such notes in it.

Johnson is cooperating fully with investigators, Rhodeen said, and has not returned to the Yale campus since his sentencing.

Johnson began serving a 15-month sentence in June 2002 for larceny convictions related to the thefts.

At the sentencing, Rhodeen said Johnson had a psychiatric illness and had stopped taking a large dose of Prozac before the thefts started.

Johnson was in prison until February, when he moved to a New Haven halfway house. He was allowed to enter a transitional supervision program that allowed him to return home with his parents.

After Wednesday's search, correction officers decided to revoke that privilege. They thought it was no longer appropriate "because there is a pending investigation by other law enforcement authorities," said corrections spokeswoman Christina Polce.

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