California man accused of sending letters that threatened Bush, Cheney, congressman

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 9:52 pm
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- An engineer at a nuclear power plant has been charged with sending threatening letters containing a powdery substance to a country club where President Bush is scheduled to appear Tuesday for a Republican campaign event.

Michael Lee Braun, 51, was appeared in court Monday on two federal charges of sending threats through the mail. The FBI said he also is a suspect in mailing dozens of similar threats since shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The charges are connected to two letters prosecutors said Braun mailed on Thursday to the Serrano Country Club and Serrano Visitors Center in El Dorado Hills, a tony community in the foothills east of Sacramento. Bush plans to appear at the club Tuesday afternoon in a campaign event for U.S. Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.

The letters contained threats to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Doolittle, according to an FBI statement.

"Anytime somebody's out there threatening offices and public servants, it's unnerving to say the least," Doolittle spokeswoman Laura Blackann said.

Spokesmen for the Secret Service declined comment.

A federal affidavit said that Braun has sent a total of 51 threatening letters since the 2001 terrorist attacks. The letters threatened the lives of the president, Cheney, First Lady Laura Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the affidavit said.

"Each of the letters contained a written threat, usually death by some kind of WMD agent (anthrax, toxic chemical poison, radioactive dust or improvised explosives) and some unknown, white, powdery substance, or items simulating a possible letter/package improvised explosive device," the affidavit said.

The white substance usually turned out to be baking soda, the affidavit said.

Braun's attorney, Philip Cozens, declined to comment Monday, saying he had just taken the case.

FBI spokeswoman Karen Ernst said the case was "not believed to be related" to the ongoing probe into the anthrax used in mailings that killed five people in 2001.

Braun was arrested Friday. FBI agents had Braun under surveillance last Thursday and watched as he dropped two letters into a mailbox at an Elk Grove strip mall, said Drew Parenti, a special agent in charge in Sacramento. They sealed off the mailbox and found the letters to the Serrano visitors center and country club.

Federal officials also searched his home in Elk Grove, a suburb south of Sacramento, and at the decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, which is owned by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The affidavit said Braun has a master's degree in radiological physics and a law degree. He has worked as a nuclear engineer at Rancho Seco since 1984 while practicing law part-time.