A Texas woman was indicted Friday on charges that she sent threatening, ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an attempt to frame her estranged husband.
The federal indictment charges Shannon Richardson, 35, with two counts of mailing a threatening communication and one count of making a threat against the president of the United States.
Richardson, an actress from New Boston, Texas, was arrested June 7. She is accused of sending the threatening letters in May to Obama, Bloomberg and a third man who heads the mayor's gun-control group.
"What's in this letter is nothing compared to what I've got in store for you, Mr. President," the letter to Obama said.
If convicted, Richardson faces up to five years in prison on each charge.
Richardson's attorney, Tonda Curry, said her client will plead not guilty. Although federal investigators say Richardson has admitted mailing the letters, Curry noted that the government must prove Richardson had "the requisite mental state" to make her actions a crime.
Curry said prosecutors have told her they are considering additional charges for the manufacture or possession of a biological agent.
"I'm hopeful that the counter-terrorism task force wouldn't even approve that charge, because it's clear in this case that whatever was done was not done for the purpose of hurting the president, the mayor or anyone else," said Curry, noting that high-ranking public officials typically don't open their own mail.
Davilyn Walston, the spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district of Texas, said she couldn't comment on the specifics of the Richardson investigation, but she said there's always a possibility of a superseding indictment in every case.
Authorities have determined that the letters were mailed from New Boston, about 150 miles northeast of Dallas, or nearby Texarkana and postmarked in Shreveport, La.
The government has accused Richardson of mailing the letters and trying to pin the crime on Nathan Richardson, whom she married in 2011. He filed for divorce earlier this month and told the Texarkana Gazette he contemplated divorce last year but reconsidered when the relationship seemed to improve.
The marriage was at least the third for Shannon Richardson, and she has five children ranging in age from 4 to 19 from other relationships, according to Nathan Richardson's attorney, John Delk.
Delk said Friday that his client has been allowed to return to the couple's home in New Boston, which was quarantined after it was searched by FBI agents wearing hazardous material suits.
"He's starting to get his life back in order, and he's still cooperating fully with the investigators, answering any questions they may have and providing any evidence they may need," Delk said.
The children from Shannon Richardson's previous relationships are now in Georgia with Richardson's second husband, Delk said.
According to an FBI affidavit, Richardson first contacted authorities to implicate her husband in the scheme. But she failed a polygraph exam and investigators found inconsistencies in her story, the document alleges.
Richardson, who has had minor television and film roles under the name Shannon Guess, later admitted she mailed the letters but maintained that her husband made her do it, according to the affidavit.
Richardson, who is six months pregnant, has been in the Titus County jail since her arrest but is due to be transferred to a federal prison for a psychological exam.
A federal judge last week ordered Richardson to undergo the exam after Curry requested it, saying her client had displayed "a pattern of behavior" that calls into question whether she could assist in her defense.
"The fact that she's in jail while she's pregnant, the possibility of having to give birth to her child while in custody, not having her own doctor — all those things are contributing (to her mental state)," Curry said.