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Woman charged in anthrax threat

A National Institutes of Health employee was arrested on charges that she threatened Florida tax assessors with anthrax after she lost a claim for tax relief.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Maryland woman who works at the National Institutes of Health was arrested on charges she threatened Florida tax assessors with anthrax after she lost a claim for tax relief.

Michelle Ledgister, 43, a quality control and assurance officer at the agency’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was arrested Monday and charged with spreading false information and making a hoax under the Terrorism Prevention Act, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

According to her arrest warrant, Ledgister left a threatening voicemail message last month at the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office after she lost a claim for tax relief on property she owns in Parkland.

Ledgister identified herself, said she worked for NIH and said, “You guys now have anthrax spores once again, so do be careful,” according to the warrant.

A hazardous-materials team searched the building housing the assessor’s office, but found no evidence of anthrax.

Ledgister, who was arrested by FBI agents in Rockville, Md., faces up to five years in prison if convicted. She was being held without bond pending a court hearing Tuesday afternoon in Greenbelt, Md. It could not be immediately determined if she has an attorney.

NIH spokesman John Burklow said Ledgister does not have access to anthrax. Ledgister remains an NIH employee but Burklow couldn’t say if she faces discipline.

“An anthrax threat, even if a hoax, is a serious crime, which this office will prosecute vigorously,” U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said in a news release.

Broward County is just south of Boca Raton, where one of the still-unsolved anthrax mailings of fall 2001 killed an employee of tabloid publisher American Media Inc.