A federal grand jury returned a 77-count indictment Tuesday against a Van Nuys man who is accused of mailing a series of letters threatening to spark fires in Southern California, poison meat and baby food and kill his former lawyer.
Each of the 77 counts against Thomas Lee Larsen carries a possible five-year prison sentence and a fine of $250,000. Conviction on all counts would mean that Larsen could face a maximum sentence of 385 years in prison and a $192.5-million fine.
Prosecutors believe that Larsen, a convicted child molester with a long criminal history, is "Fedbuster," the author of a letter sent to 37 Southern California residents and fire stations in late August and early September. In that letter, Fedbuster said he was angry about property that had been seized from him. He demanded an apology from the judge, prosecutors and agents who were responsible.
"If I get no satisfaction by the time we get a real good volatile fire season you'll really regret it you'll see," the author of the letter wrote.
Using clues, including telltale initials, Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Jessner identified Larsen as the man responsible for sending the letters. Larsen, 43, was arrested Nov. 8.
Authorities are investigating Larsen in connection with several of the fires that erupted throughout the Southland shortly after the letter was mailed, but he was not charged with arson in the indictment returned Tuesday. In a sealed affidavit filed by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Larsen was said to "clearly and completely" match the profile of a serial arsonist and was identified as a suspect in at least five of the fires. Larsen could be charged with arson if authorities determine that he set one or more of the blazes.
Although authorities say that Larsen confessed to sending the "Fedbuster" letters, he has denied setting any fires. His lawyer, Phillip I. Bronson, said Tuesday that Larsen was distressed by the indictment and by the long sentences that convictions could bring him.
"He's obviously concerned," Bronson said after speaking with his client. "Anybody would be with the magnitude of those charges."
In addition to the charges related to Larsen's alleged involvement in sending the "Fedbuster" letter, he faces another 33 counts in connection with a letter threatening to poison baby food and meat. That letter was signed "Nitecrawler," and was sent to residents and preschools in Manhattan Beach.
"Based on my review of the 'Nitecrawler' letter, it is evident to me that the writer of the 'Nitecrawler' letter is the writer of the 'Fedbuster' letter," FBI Special Agent Richard G. Palacios stated in an affidavit filed in connection with the Larsen case.
Larsen has a history of sending threatening letters. He once sent a letter to a judge presiding over one of his cases in which he made a veiled threat on the judge's daughter, and on another occasion he wrote to the mother of one of his child victims, threatening her.
He also has been arrested twice on arson charges, once when he was 9 years old and was accused of trying to set a church on fire.
Seven of the 77 counts in the indictment returned Tuesday accuse Larsen of sending yet another threatening letter, this one to J. Patrick Maginnis, a noted Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who represented Larsen in two different cases. According to the indictment, Larsen sent a letter to Maginnis and several other people in which he threatened to kill Maginnis and members of the lawyer's family.
Maginnis declined to comment in detail on the case Tuesday, saying that the U.S. attorney's office had asked him not to discuss the investigation. Maginnis did say, however, that he received a threatening letter in August and that he turned it over to authorities.
Maginnis most recently represented Larsen in a case where Larsen was charged with spraying acid on cars and on a young girl. Larsen was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in that case, but while that process was underway, he mailed a letter to the judge in which he mentioned the judge's daughter and appeared to threaten her, Maginnis said.
Larsen is scheduled to be arraigned on the letter-sending charges next week.