By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Iowa man was convicted on Friday of mailing pipe bombs and threatening letters to investment companies in a failed bid to get the firms to artificially drive up the value of certain stocks.
A jury in federal court in Chicago found John Tomkins, a 47-year-old machinist from Dubuque, guilty of one count of using a destructive device while mailing a threatening communication, two counts of possessing an unregistered destructive device, and nine counts of mailing a threatening communication.
Tomkins, who has been in custody since 2007 and represented himself at trial, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors said Tomkins, writing under the name "The Bishop," sent a series of letters to financial institutions in 2005, demanding they move a number of stocks he had an interest in to specific price targets by specific dates.
In one case, the price Tomkins demanded was $6.66 - the Biblical sign of the beast.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which led the 100-person-member task force that investigated the mailings and ultimately tracked them to Tomkins, said the letters and packages contained recurring phrases, including "Life is full of choices," "Bang you're dead," and "Tic-Toc."
Some of those phrases, and the nickname Tomkins chose, led investigators to believe he was at least partially inspired by a 1972 Charles Bronson movie called "The Mechanic."
The film featured a hit man named "Arthur Bishop," who, in one scene, leaves a bomb inside a car along with the note "Bang. You're dead."
But prosecutors said Tomkins' motive was financial. At trial, they presented evidence he had opened option contracts in two of the companies mentioned in the letters and that the value of those positions would have increased if the underlying stocks had moved in the direction he demanded.
The mailings, which began in 2005, took an ominous turn in 2007, when American Century Investment Management in Kansas City, Missouri, and Janus Capital Group in Denver received threatening notes and functional but disarmed pipe bombs.
The device sent to Denver was rerouted to the firm's Chicago office, where police intercepted it.
On the day Tomkins was arrested, investigators recovered two additional assembled pipe bombs in a storage locker he rented that were similar to the mailed ones.
They also found receipts for some of the components found inside the mailed devices.
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. has tentatively set Tomkins' sentencing for August 6.
(Editing by Stacey Joyce)