By Matthew Liptak
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Reuters) - An upstate New York man was sentenced to 33 months in prison on Wednesday for sending letters he claimed were laced with lethal substances to U.S. Senator John McCain and others over an 18-year period stretching back to the 1990s.
Brian Norton, 60, of Cicero, had pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to two felony counts of conveying false information and hoaxes.
He claimed the 21 letters he admitted sending from 1997 to 2011 contained deadly ricin and anthrax but the substance turned out to be harmless white powder.
In addition to McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, letters were sent to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Ann Marie Buerkle, then a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York, among others.
At least two Syracuse-area schools, Bishop Ludden High School and Le Moyne College, also received letters.
Norton's sentence, which includes an additional three years of supervised release, exceeded federal guidelines, prosecutors said.
"To that extent we were satisfied," said John Duncan, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Syracuse. "The courts don't often depart upwards of sentencing guidelines."
Norton's lawyer, Edward Z. Menkin of Syracuse, said in an e-mail he considered the sentence as "relatively lenient," due to Norton's undiagnosed mental illness.
"This was a complex and highly unusual case," Menkin said. "There is no question that Mr. Norton's mental disabilities contributed directly to the writing and sending of these threatening letters over an extended period of time."
(Editing By Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)