Former House clerk sentenced for Iowa Capitol white powder letter hoax

The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A former clerk in the Iowa House of Representatives was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison stemming from an April 2012 incident in which a state legislator received a racially charged threatening letter than contained white powder.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge John A. Jarvey sentenced Michael Dekota McRae, 28, to 18 months imprisonment for conveying false information concerning a biological weapon. McRae also was ordered to pay $2,747.50 in restitution a $100 special assessment to the Crime Victims’ Fund.

McRae, a former legislative clerk to state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, admitted to writing a threatening letter addressed to Abdul-Samad that contained racial slurs and threats to kill both McRae and the state representative. McRae subsequently inserted the letter, along with a white powdery substance, into an envelope which he placed into a legislative mail receptacle.

On April 3, 2012, McRae opened the threatening letter on the chamber floor during an active session of the Iowa Legislature, causing the white powder — included to simulate a biological agent or toxin — to be released and to contact both McRae and Abdul-Samad. The incident caused a four-hour lockdown at the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines.

McRae admitted to perpetrating the hoax to create fear in others, according to a news release issued by the office of U.S. Attorney Kevin E. VanderSchel. The released noted that when McRae committed the crime, legislation proposing to expand existing Iowa law allowing individuals to defend themselves in their home, business or place of employment — commonly referred to as “stand your ground” — was pending before the Iowa Legislature.

In the days leading up to the hoax, McRae and others participated in a rally on the Capitol steps to protest the proposed legislation, and that rally was mentioned in the threatening letter written by McRae, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for Iowa’s southern district.

According to news accounts at the time, the House was debating a bill to ban traffic enforcement cameras when McRae opened the letter. Then House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, halted debate when informed of the situation.

The incident involving the letter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Iowa State Patrol, the Des Moines Police Department, the Des Moines Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team, and the Iowa National Guard 71st Civil Support Team.

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