Federal prosecutors said the fax suggested that federal bankruptcy trustee Elizabeth Loveridge should check out the "Hazmat" that would be coming in an orange envelope.
That was Nov. 16. A few days later, an envelope arrived with the word "caution" written on it.
Inside, federal prosecutors allege, Idaho State University history professor Thomas Francis Hale sent a note that said "Termites or hantavirus from mice?"
"It was wrapped around a baggie containing small, brown, mouse poopy-type things," assistant U.S. Attorney Trina Higgins said Thursday, adding that it was not hantavirus but was believed to be termites.
The note is part of a federal indictment handed down against Hale, 61, charging him with making the phony hantavirus hoax, lying to federal authorities and hiding assets during bankruptcy proceedings. The indictment was unsealed on Thursday.
Hale was arrested by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force on Tuesday at the Salt Lake City International Airport after stepping off a flight from Chicago.
"He was surprised to be arrested," FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Tim Fuhrman said.
However, Hale's attorney offered a surprising explanation for the hantavirus scare. The tenants of a property Hale owned in Salt Lake City's Sugar House neighborhood had said there were termites in the basement and he had sent a sample to Loveridge, who had been placed in charge of his financial matters by the bankruptcy court.
"He was saying, 'Here is something you should look at,"' attorney Larry Keller told the judge. "Not 'I'm going to kill you.' Why would he put his name and address on it?"
Keller said Hale had been frustrated with Loveridge and believed she was mismanaging his affairs. A hearing on that issue is scheduled next month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Federal prosecutors countered that Hale would show up at her office, barge past the receptionist and confront her about his case. The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges that Hale also lied about the value of his property claiming it was valued at $190,000 and then trying to sell it for $395,000.
Keller questioned why the FBI waited more than a month to arrest his client.
"If I'm a terrorist and I threaten somebody, they're going to want to get me off the streets right away," he said.
Higgins responded that they were waiting for the test results to show if the substance was really hantavirus, a rare and potentially deadly disease spread by mouse droppings.
During a pair of appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner, Hale sat quietly in his seat. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and a three-day jury trial was set for March 5.
"I find counsel's explanation to be ... interesting," Warner said.
The magistrate judge ordered Hale to be released from the Salt Lake County Jail but then dressed down Hale with a number of conditions of release including that he have no contact with Loveridge except through her attorney and that he undergo mental health therapy.
"Ms. Loveridge is very frightened," Higgins said.
Hale is a history professor at Idaho State University in Pocatello, where he has taught for 23 years. He is also a lawyer who operates a legal clinic dispensing advice to indigent people.
Federal authorities contend Hale wanted to send a message.
"He clearly wanted to register some type of objection to his bankruptcy proceeding," Fuhrman said.The charge of providing false information and perpetrating a hoax is a fairly recent one, arising out of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the anthrax scares that happened shortly afterward, the FBI said.
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