WASHINGTON – Two Maryland men were charged with anthrax hoaxes in separate incidents this week that forced the evacuation of Montgomery County businesses while hazardous materials crews tested for the deadly spore.
One man was charged by Montgomery County Police for a Thursday threat and faces fines and up to 40 years in prison. The second man was charged Friday by federal prosecutors and could face up to a $250,000 fine and life in prison.
State and federal authorities said they take the hoaxes seriously and defended the potentially stiff penalties.
“There’s nothing funny about causing fear and anxiety to innocent victims, not to mention the waste of public safety resources,” said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose in a prepared statement. “I want to send the strongest message that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable.”
Police arrested Arlo Kenneth Allen Jr., 43, of Mitchellville on Thursday evening in connection with an anthrax hoax that morning at the Crystal Ford car dealership in Silver Spring.
Police said that when Allen dropped off his vehicle at the dealership for service at 9:15 a.m., he spilled an unknown white substance from a plastic bag onto the service adviser’s desk. He said it was anthrax. When the employee said that was not funny, Allen again said it was anthrax, before leaving and dumping the empty bag in a trash can outside, police said.
The dealership was evacuated, and the substance later tested negative for anthrax.
Police arrested Allen without incident when he returned to the dealership around 7:45 p.m. Thursday.
He faces one felony count of making a false statement and three counts of second-degree assault, and could get up to $17,500 and 40 years in prison if convicted, a police spokesman said. Allen is currently held at the Montgomery County Detention Center on $100,000 bond.
On Friday, Anthony Salvatore Mancuso was arrested by the Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Office and turned over to the FBI, after a maintenance worker at Financial Initial Systems (Edgar On-Line) saw him sprinkling a white powder in a co-worker’s office, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson, who is prosecuting the case, said the incident took place either late Thursday evening or early Friday morning.
The Montgomery County Hazardous Incidence Response Team was called to the Rockville office and the business was closed for most of the morning, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland. Authorities now believe the powder was flour.
Mancuso, 27, of Rockville, told law enforcement officials that the powder was intended as a “joke,” according to the affidavit. But under a “zero tolerance” policy for false threats, Mancuso faces as much as a life sentence and a $250,000 fine, in addition to restitution for all related expenses.
The reason for the difference between the sentences the two men face is that Mancuso was arrested by federal officials, while Allen’s case is with the state, said Officer Derek Baliles, a Montgomery police spokesman. Each man was arrested by the agency most readily available at the time of the incidents, he said, and for no other reason.