Nightly News   |  May 30, 2013

Who sent ricin letters to Bloomberg, Obama?

The deadly poison, which was sent in letters to President Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg’s Washington, DC organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns, can destroy any bodily tissue it comes in contact with. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> good evening. the first scare of its kind took place in those nervous and shaky days after 9/11. prior to that, few people had ever heard of ricin. very few of us ever dreamed someone would send any kind of substance through the mail designed to harm and threaten people. now it's happened again. letters to the president of the united states and the mayor of new york city have been intercepted and they test positive for ricin. this time they appear to be linked and they are about the issue of gun control post newtown. this is now an fbi matter. it's where we begin tonight with our justice correspondent pete williams in our washington newsroom. pete, good evening.

>> reporter: brian, the president and the mayor were never in any danger because their mail is routinely screened for hazards like this. a third letter did get through. its recipient is said not to have been harmed. the question tonight is who sent them. law enforcement officials say the letter addressed to president obama was found today at a mail screening facility in washington nowhere near the white house . it was similar, they say, to letters mailed last week containing a short note making threats against advocates of gun control . one addressed to new york mayor michael bloomberg was found last friday at the new york city facility that screens mail bound for city hall . the mayor was taking it in stride.

>> there are people who i would argue do things that may with irrational, do things that are wrong but it's a very complex world out there. we just have to deal with that.

>> reporter: a nearly identical letter was sent to an office building in washington , d.c. and opened monday by mark blaze, director of mayors against illegal guns . officials say he was not harmed. all three were postmarked in shreveport, louisiana, and mailed ten days ago anion may 20th . all contained the deadly poison called ricin made from the beans of the castor plant . they are the same used for castor oil . if processed they can yield a deadly poison for which there is no known antidote.

>> it basically will destroy the tissues it touches. if you inhale it, it would give you lung damage. if you ingest it, it would give you damage to your gut.

>> reporter: a month ago, federal prosecutors charged a mississippi man, james everett dusky with mailing letters laced with ricin to president obama and roger whitaker of mississippi . both were stopped at screening centers. the fbi arrested a man in washington last week accusing him of sending threatening letters containing ricin to a federal judge there. as for the potential penalties for sending letters containing ricin, the mississippi man face as biological weapons charge. it carries a maximum sentence of life in prison . he denies doing anything wrong.

>> pete williams from d.c. tonight. thanks.