CHICAGO (AP) — An Iowa letter carrier was sentenced to 37 years in prison Tuesday for sending dud pipe bombs with letters signed "The Bishop" in an odd but potentially deadly bid to drive up the value of shares he owned.
John Tomkins, 48, showed little emotion as a federal judge in Chicago imposed the sentence. Later, before marshals led the Dubuque, Iowa, man away in handcuff, he smiled as his attorney patted his shoulder.
In an hourlong preamble to the sentence, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow praised Tomkins for taking some responsibility for his crimes, but Dow added that the father of three had "engaged in a reign of terror."
"Horrific is the single best word I've heard to describe this crime," Dow said. "Terrifying is another good word."
Tomkins got the idea to sign his letters "The Bishop" from Harry Harrison's novel "A Stainless Steel Rat is Born," in which a criminal leaves a chess piece as his calling card. Notes with Tomkins' packages read, "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD," and said the only reason the recipient wasn't dead was because a lone wire wasn't attached.
Tomkins faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years, though prosecutors asked for around 45 years. Counting six years Tomkins has already served and credit for good behavior, he could be released by his mid-70s.
Jurors convicted Tomkins last year on 12 counts, including the use of a destructive device while mailing threatening communications. Combining all the maximums, Tomkins faced a sentence of more than 200 years.
Tomkins' lawyer, Francis Lipuma, told reporters after sentencing he plans to appeal the convictions and portions of the sentencing. But he conceded the sentence could have been far worse for his client.
"He's a family man and a man who was respected in his community," Lipuma said, adding the judge recognized that in not imposing a harsher sentence.
Tomkins' wife, Julie, was in court but declined comment to reporters later.
The judge said he was perplexed about what led Tomkins to do what he did, saying he seemed to live a typical, small-town American life not unlike the community Dow said he grew up in. Dow even cited Tomkins' fondness for bowling, garnering a smile from Tomkins.
"The defendant's secret life" planning his crimes from storage units and his car, Dow said, "comes seemingly from nowhere."
Tomkins did not address the court Wednesday, which was scheduled only for Dow to announce the sentence. But during a first phase of sentencing last month, Tomkins apologized for what he'd done.
"Let me start by saying how incredibly sorry I am," he told Dow. "There are no words to describe the shame and disappointment I feel in myself."
Authorities spent two years trying to track down "The Bishop," eventually identifying him as Tomkins in 2007 using stock market records on the two firms he cited in his letters — 3COM Corp. and Navarre Corp.
In a dozen letters, Tomkins threatened to kill recipients, their families or neighbors unless they acted to raise the stock prices. To make the letters harder to trace, Tomkins drove from Iowa to mail two packages from the Chicago area in 2007. One was sent to an address in Denver and the other to Kansas City, Mo.
The former machinist represented himself at trial, portraying himself as a mild-mannered union man fond of building race cars in his garage. Tomkins insisted he designed the ominous-looking devices so they could never explode, though prosecutors said it was just "dumb luck" that the pipe bombs didn't go off.
Serving as his own attorney led to the strange spectacle of Tomkins calling himself to the stand and referring to himself in the third person. In his closing, he apologized to jurors about his lack of legal training and asked them "not hold my shortcomings against the defendant when it comes to being a lawyer."
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