FBI sees parallels in poison letters sent to Trump, RGV agencies

An investigation by the FBI found enough similarities in ricin-filled letters sent to President Donald J. Trump and to at least two Rio Grande Valley law enforcement agencies to suspect the same 53-year-old Canadian woman.

Pascale Cecile Veronique Ferrier, of Montreal, Quebec, made her initial appearance in federal court in Buffalo, New York, Tuesday afternoon where authorities charged her with threatening the president of the United States.

(Read the probable cause affidavit.)

Last weekend, news reports that someone had sent a poisonous letter to the president began to surface. And on Monday, it became apparent that ricin-filled letters were also sent to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and to the Mission Police Department.

Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra announced Monday on Twitter that he had received one of the letters, as did three detention officers.

Mission Police Department spokesman Art Flores also confirmed Monday that a ricin-laced letter addressed to Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez also arrived at police headquarters. Flores said the FBI was notified and picked up the letter.

That’s a total of five letters sent to two agencies. An FBI affidavit reveals there’s a sixth letter associated with a law enforcement agency involved with incarcerating Ferrier in Texas, but it’s not immediately clear what agency that is.

So what is the Valley connection to a woman accused of sending the president poison?

Hidalgo County court records show that Mission police arrested Ferrier on March 12, 2019, on charges of unlawful carrying of a weapon and tampering with a governmental record. A misdemeanor complaint, which was ultimately dismissed against the woman, alleges she was found with a fake Texas driver’s license.

Ferrier was held at the Hidalgo County jail until May 19, 2019, which is when the charges were dismissed. She was then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which deported her.

The U.S. Secret Service, which initiated the investigation on Sept. 18 into the letter sent to Trump after it was intercepted at a White House mail sorting facility, became aware that there were six similar letters reported by FBI field offices in Texas, according to an FBI affidavit for Ferrier’s arrest.

“The letters from the other FBI field offices were received on September 15-16, 2020, and also had cancellation stamps indicating mailing from Canada, contained a powdery substance, and were addressed to individuals working at penitentiaries and detention centers in Texas,’ the affidavit states.

HCSO says in a news release that it received the ricin-filled letters on Sept. 14.

“The letter along with the substance was immediately secured as a standard protocol to avoid any further contact as possible contamination to employees,” the news release states. “The United States Postal Inspector was advised our office had received a letter with a potentially hazardous substance.”

These letters contained a powdery substance and language similar to the wording sent to the president, which read “… I found a new name for you: ‘The Ugly Tyrant Clown’ I hope you like it. You ruin USA and lead them disaster. I have US cousins, then I don’t want the next 4 years with you as president.

“Give up and remove your application for this election. So I made a ‘Special Gift’ for you to make a decision. The gift is in this letter. If it doesn’t work, I’ll find a better recipe for another poison, or I might use my gun when I’ll be able to come. Enjoy! FREE REBEL SPIRIT.”

Ferrier’s native language is French, not English.

The FBI says in the arrest affidavit that the letters were sent to facilities in Texas where Ferrier had been incarcerated last year.

“Each of the letters contained the statement referencing ‘if it doesn’t work I will find a better recipe’ and all contained similar material to the material found in the letter received at the White House Mail Sorting Facility in Washington D.C.,” the FBI affidavit states.

The sheriff’s office said in a Tuesday news release that the letter it received also contained the phrase “FREE REBEL SPIRIT,” as well as threats toward Guerra and the three detention officers.

“In the letter, the author clearly stated a desire to harm Sheriff Guerra and three female detention officers as they too were sent letters. The letters were intercepted at the Hidalgo County Detention Center, without incident,” HCSO said in a news release.

As the investigation into the letters unfolded, authorities focused on Canadians who had recent arrests and jail stints in the FBI San Antonio area, which led police to Ferrier, who was arrested by Mission PD, spent time in the Hidalgo County jail and was transferred to ICE custody, according to the FBI.

According to the affidavit, a total of six letters were sent by Ferrier. As of Tuesday afternoon, only five letters and two agencies had been publicly identified — leaving one letter and possibly one other law enforcement agency.

The Monitor reached out to ICE to ask whether it had received a letter, since the FBI affidavit states that Ferrier was in ICE custody while in the Rio Grande Valley.

In response, ICE provided public court documents The Monitor had already obtained.

“We have nothing to add beyond what is in the court documents,” ICE spokesperson Monica Yoas said via email.

The FBI affidavit, however, also mentions that the Houston FBI field office, in addition to the San Antonio field office, alerted it to similar letters.

“Further investigation of the letters revealed enough similarities between the letters to conclude the Texas and Washington D.C. letters were sent by the same individual,” the FBI affidavit states. “Similarities included a signature block of ‘FREE REBEL SPIRIT’ and matching language in each letter similar to ‘special gift for you,’ and ‘if it doesn’t work I will find a better recipe for another poison or I might use my gun when I’ll be able to come’ in some of the San Antonio letters and the letter in Washington D.C.”

The National Bioforensic Analysis Center examined all the Texas letters and the D.C. letter, according to the FBI affidavit, which states that investigators recovered latent fingerprints on four of the letters recovered in San Antonio, which the FBI says matches Ferrier’s fingerprints.

“Investigation of the defendant’s social media platforms revealed FaceBook and Twitter postings on or about September 9, 2020, which referenced ‘#killTrump’ and discussed wording such as ‘Ugly Clown Tyrant’ (which is nearly the same wording used in the letter sent to the President.),” the FBI affidavit states.

In the sheriff’s news release, it’s stated that the letter received was postmarked from Canada with the date of Sept. 9 — the same day the FBI alleges Ferrier made the social media posts.

As the FBI further looked into those social media posts, agents identified an email address associated with Ferrier, according to the affidavit.

The sheriff’s office also says in the news release that the letter sender, alleged to be Ferrier, included details about it being sent from Canada, as well as the sender being incarcerated in the Hidalgo County jail.

“On September 20, 2020, the defendant attempted to enter the United States at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Buffalo, New York, from Canada, and was detained by Customs and Border Patrol Officers (CBP),” the FBI affidavit states. “The defendant made statements to CBP officers referencing ‘being wanted by the FBI for the ricin letters,’ and was found to be in possession of a loaded firearm in her waistband, as well as a knife.”

During Ferrier’s initial apperance Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder entered a not guilty plea on Ferrier’s behalf.

The approximately 30-minute hearing was mostly procedural, as the warrant for Ferrier’s arrest on a charge of threatening the president is out of Washington D.C., so the magistrate judge informed Ferrier of her rights and asked attorneys how they wanted to proceed.

During the hearing, a public defender appointed to represent Ferrier, who only answered yes to Schroeder’s questions, requested an identity and probable cause hearing, which the magistrate judge granted.

The U.S. government requested a detention hearing, with a prosecutor saying Ferrier is charged with a crime of violence and alleging that she is a flight risk.

The judge granted all of these requests and scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. on Sept. 28.