Federal authorities increase reward in anthrax investigation to $2.5 million

Wednesday, January 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EWING, N.J. (AP) _ Federal authorities on Wednesday doubled the reward to $2.5 million for information leading to the arrest of the sender of four anthrax-tainted letters.

Officials also said fliers would be sent to more than 500,000 people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania asking for their help.

``This individual responsible for this may well be a neighbor, may well be a work associate,'' said Kevin Burke of the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Burke said the fliers, which include pictures of the anthrax-tainted envelopes, would target residents in Bucks County, Pa., and in central New Jersey, where the letters were processed at the Hamilton postal facility.

The FBI hopes someone will recognize the handwriting or the type of embossed 34-cent envelope used. Officials believe the culprit has a scientific background and is familiar with the Trenton area.

``We're reaching out to you to ensure there are no more victims,'' said FBI Special Agent Kevin Donovan. ``I don't believe this person is as elusive as the Unabomber.''

Five people died from anthrax last year _ including two postal workers _ and more than a dozen people were infected.

The four anthrax-tainted letters, sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, the New York Post and two U.S. senators, were postmarked Trenton and went through the Hamilton facility. Officials believe other people were infected with anthrax through cross-contamination in the mail.

The anthrax contamination has kept the Hamilton facility closed and forced the closure of a Senate office building for three months. The Senate Hart Office Building, home to half of the 100 senators, reopened Tuesday after it was fumigated with a chlorine compound.

Since the first cases of anthrax were identified last fall, more than 15,000 anthrax hoaxes and threats had been reported to the postal service, Burke said. More than 540 post offices have been closed as a result and 71 people have been arrested, he said.

``If we find you, we'll arrest you and we'll prosecute you,'' Burke said.

The reward money includes $2 million from the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service and $500,000 from direct mailer Advo Inc.