By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested a man charged with mailing a letter containing the deadly poison ricin to a U.S. district judge in Spokane, Washington, the FBI said.
Investigators have no information to suggest the Spokane envelope is related to a batch of ricin-tainted letters addressed to President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials and intercepted last month, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle said.
The suspect in the Spokane case, Matthew Ryan Buquet, 37, made a brief appearance in federal court on Wednesday to face a single-count indictment charging him with mailing threatening communications. His home in Spokane was searched on Saturday.
If convicted, Buquet would face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf, and he was ordered to return to court May 28 for a bail hearing, according to court documents.
The letter, received May 14, was addressed to a federal judge in Spokane but intercepted by a court employee who discovered a "suspicious substance" in the envelope during a screening process, authorities said.
Subsequent analysis confirmed the substance in the letter contained ricin, a highly lethal poison made from castor beans. Ricin poisoning can occur when the substance enters the body through ingestion, inhalation or injection.
Authorities are not aware of any illness or injury resulting from exposure to the ricin letters uncovered in recent weeks, the FBI said.
The two page-indictment identified the intended recipient of the Spokane envelope as U.S. District Judge Van Sickle and said it contained an unspecified "threat to injure and kill" him.
It was not clear what connection, if any, investigators have established between the suspect and the judge.
"Our investigation is continuing, and motivation is certainly one of the things that the FBI and (U.S. Postal Inspection Service) will look to determine," FBI spokeswoman Ayn Sandalo Dietrich told Reuters.
Dietrich added, "We don't have any information to suggest this letter is related" to three other ricin-tainted envelopes sent last month to Obama, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and judge in that state, or to the suspect accused of mailing them.
James Everett Dutschke, 41, a martial arts instructor, was arrested in Tupelo, Mississippi, on April 27 on suspicion of mailing the three earlier letters. A federal judge has ruled there is sufficient evidence for a grand jury to consider returning an indictment against him.
(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)