Everett, Wash., man arrested, charged after suspicious packages sent

Thanh Cong Phan appeared in federal court in Seattle on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, (Sketch by Lois Silver for KOMO News)

WASHINGTON (KOMO/AP) - A 43-year-old Everett man whose mental health problems have raised alarms with police in the past has been arrested after he allegedly sent suspicious packages containing potentially destructive devices to multiple military installations in the Washington, D.C., region, the FBI says.

Thanh Cong Phan was charged Tuesday with shipping of explosive material, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors say he has written hundreds of letters to government agencies and has had frequent contact with the 911 system.

Court documents say 11 packages were received Monday at, among other locations, the White House, FBI , Fort Belvoir in Virginia; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington D.C.; Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington D.C.; and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia.

Each contained small amounts of black explosive powder, prosecutors say. None of the packages exploded or caused any injuries. Court documents say one package intercepted at the mailing facility in Baltimore for FBI headquarters contained "a type-written letter with incoherent ramblings," a glass vial with a black substance and a GPS device. An examination of three of the devices found the substance to contain low-explosive powder known as double base smokeless powder, court documents say.

It's possible that additional packages were mailed to additional mail processing facilities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area but have not yet been discovered, officials said.

Phan was arrested at his home residence on Monday with assistance from Snohomish County sheriff's deputies. Phan appeared in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon.

He will remain in jail, and a detention hearing has been set for him for Friday.

Prosecutors say a postal inspector traced tracking information on one of the packages to a Mill Creek, Washington, post office's self-service kiosk. Surveillance photos at the post office appeared to show Phan.

Writings in the packages were similar to correspondence Phan has been known to write. "Phan has sent hundreds of letters and/or emails to various government agencies containing similar incoherent ramblings," an FBI agent wrote in court documents Police also knew him because his frequent contact with 911, prosecutors said. He texted 911 on the night he was arrested, court documents say.

"The FBI found in these packages letters that have long, rambling messages -- messages we've seen before where Mr. Phan has sent these messages to 911 dispatch; to other government agencies before," said FBI spokesperson Ayn Dietrich-Willaims. "But what happened with the recent packages is this is the first time we've seen those message coupled with potential incendiary devices. So we've seen it before and we assessed it previously we didn't determine there to be any information to suggest a specific credible threat, so this is really a change in the last week."

Court documents show that police have been concerned about his mental health in the past. In May 2011, Snohomish County deputies went to Phan as a result of a mental health call.

He "made some bizarre statements to them which gave the deputies concern about the defendant's mental health and safety," court documents say. He was taken into protective custody for an involuntary commitment.

Phan had a loaded pistol in his backpack, and because he had been convicted of second-degree assault in 1990. he could not have a gun. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, but that charge was later dismissed after he completed a therapeutic program, court documents show.

FBI agents were outside his Everett home on Wednesday.

Neighbors in Phan's neighborhood said they knew little about him.

Wayne Silver, who has lived in the neighborhood for 28 years, said he never met Phan.

"I’m surprised. I never saw the guy before," Silver said. "It's crazy."

The U.S. law enforcement official says the packages contained black powder along with rambling, nonsensical notes similar to those the man has been known to send in the past. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly before an official announcement.

Authorities said Phan was previously known to law enforcement.

No injuries were reported, and the FBI said each package was collected for further analysis at the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia.

The suspect's motive was not immediately clear, but officials said there was no immediate connection to terrorism.

"(The letters) include lots of rambling thoughts, at times incoherent," Deitrich-Williams said. "Not a message that would indicate motivation or ideology."

Army spokesman Michael L. Howard says that a bomb disposal unit from Fort Belvoir confirmed the package tested positive for black powder residue.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off