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Mississippi man arrested in ricin case

by ADRIAN SAINZ Associated Press on April 18, 2013 10:40 AM

CORINTH, Miss. — A Mississippi man accused of mailing letters with suspected ricin to national leaders believed he had uncovered a conspiracy to sell human body parts on the black market and claimed “various parties within the government” were trying to ruin his reputation.

Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested Wednesday at his home in Corinth, near the Tennessee state line.

Authorities were waiting for definitive tests on intercepted letters that were addressed to President Barack Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. Preliminary field tests can often show false positives for ricin. Ricin is derived from the castor plant that makes castor oil. There is no antidote and it’s deadliest when inhaled.

An FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by The Associated Press said the two letters were postmarked Memphis, Tenn.

Both letters said: “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” Both were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.”

It was not immediately known what charges Curtis faced.

The letters had Washington on edge in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing. As authorities scurried to investigate three questionable packages discovered in Senate office buildings Wednesday, reports of suspicious items also came in from at least three senators’ offices in their home states. The items were found to be harmless.

In Corinth, a city of about 14,000, police cordoned off part of a subdivision where Curtis lived.

At least five police cars were on the scene, but there didn’t appear to be any hazardous-material crews and no neighbors were evacuated. The one-story, single-family home is similar to the others in the neighborhood, with red brick and white trim.

Neighbors, who said Curtis kept to himself and did not seem violent, were concerned by the idea that someone was making poison in the house that sits so close to their bedrooms and front yards.

Next-door neighbor Kayla Latch, 18, lives with her mother and her two brothers and said they were worried that toxic chemicals could be released when investigators enter the home.

“I’m afraid they might open it up and it (poison) might go into the air and hurt someone,” Latch said.

Matthew Latch, Kayla’s brother, said he would sometimes hear Curtis playing his guitar outside the house late at night.

Ricky Curtis, who said he was Kevin Curtis’ cousin, said the family was shocked by the news of the arrest. He described his cousin as a “super entertainer” who impersonated Elvis and numerous other singers.

“We’re all in shock. I don’t think anybody had a clue that this kind of stuff was weighing on his mind,” Ricky Curtis said in a telephone interview.

The FBI said there was no indication of a connection between the letters and the Monday bombing in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 170. The letters to Obama and Wicker were postmarked April 8, before the marathon.

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