'Cruel hoax' jolts state offices


Envelopes containing white powder were delivered to state offices in Las Vegas and Carson City on Friday, prompting evacuations, decontamination procedures and a lockdown. The substances inside were ultimately found to be harmless.

Both letters were linked to similar mailings sent to more than 30 governors' offices across the country since Monday, the FBI said.

A letter addressed to Gov. Jim Gibbons' Las Vegas office in the Sawyer Building near downtown was discovered by an employee about 10 a.m., according to the Metropolitan Police Department. The building was locked down while a police hazardous materials team removed the letter.

Tests showed the powdery substance inside the envelope was nontoxic, and employees at the offices on Washington Avenue near Las Vegas Boulevard were allowed to leave about noon, police said.

The letter had the same postmark from Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas as other suspicious packages sent to governors' offices this week, said Rod Swanson, terrorism task force special agent for the Las Vegas FBI. The powdery substances in those packages were also ruled nontoxic, he said.

The Sawyer Building envelope contained a note, but Swanson would not reveal what it said. He said there could be more letters to come.

About an hour after authorities deemed the Las Vegas letter harmless, an employee in the state mailroom in Carson City found white powder in a 4 inch by 5 inch manila envelope addressed to former Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Fourteen state mailroom employees were then quarantined for seven hours until a laboratory test found the substance was harmless. They went through a decontamination process, including being sprayed with cold water in a tent set up outside the mailroom, about a quarter mile east of the state Capitol.

As an additional precaution, 40 employees in the state Department of Education building, adjacent to the mailroom, were evacuated.

After two early tests at the Carson City Fire Department lab showed the possibility of anthrax, the FBI took the substance to a more sophisticated lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. About 8 p.m. a third test showed the substance was harmless. A final test was to be conducted, but results were not expected until today.

Two false-positive results also came back from initial field tests on the letter sent to the Sawyer Building.

It's quite common, officials said, that such field tests will come back positive and final tests will come back negative.

Fire Department Battalion Chief Vince Pirozzi said he was confident all along the Carson City substance, which also arrived in an envelope with a Texas postmark, was not anthrax. He added none of the state employees had shown any signs of health problems.

An employee had touched the manila envelope, but did not open it. The Fire Department was then called and the envelope was opened and tested by its hazmat team.

Regardless of the findings, said Gibbons' spokesman Dan Burns, "it is a cruel hoax to play on people. We hope they catch the person who did it."

Cpl. Randal Smith of the Capitol Police said governors in 37 states have received similar envelopes.

Officials in some of the states said the powder was flour, corn starch or some other harmless food substance.

The other states where the letters have been received, according to information provided by the FBI, are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Contact Review-Journal reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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