PORTLAND – A Portland man who is charged with sending threatening letters to Gov. Paul LePage told federal agents that he sent those letters, and sent threatening letters to national political figures including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, according to testimony Wednesday in federal court.

Authorities found a gun and an ammunition clip in Michael Thomas’ desk drawer when he was arrested Friday, FBI Special Agent Pamela Flick testified, and Thomas said that if they had shown up later, he would have engaged them in a shootout.

Thomas is accused of sending LePage three letters, which said among other things that the author was willing to sacrifice his life to shoot the governor. Thomas told agents Friday that he would follow through on his threats if he had the means, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Neumann.

“This is escalating behavior. This is a very dangerous individual,” she said. “The defendant has done nothing but instill fear in the victim and in the community.”

After a 90-minute hearing, U.S. District Judge John Rich III ruled that Thomas, 50, poses a danger to the community and will be held until his trial, which has not been scheduled. Thomas sat passively throughout the hearing and showed no emotion as he was led from the hearing room in handcuffs and ankle shackles.

Rich based his ruling in part on Thomas’ convictions for violating probation in 1999 and 2000, incidents that he said showed Thomas could not be trusted to abide by rules established by the court.

Wednesday’s testimony portrayed a man with mental illness, including antisocial and paranoid disorders for which he was deemed disabled in 2002. He also has a history of sending threatening letters.

In 1998 and 1999, Thomas was convicted of threatening and harassment in connection with letters he sent to people who had been his classmates at a prep school in Massachusetts — people who he said had bullied him, Flick said.

Thomas also sent letters with white powder to police agencies to provoke fear akin to the post-Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax scares, she said. He said he wanted police to know how he felt about the legal system, Flick said.

Thomas admitted to sending threatening letters to U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., as well as Walker, Snowe and Collins, she said. Thomas told the agents that he is a liberal Democrat and a communist, and that he is a strong proponent of gun rights.

Thomas’ lawyer, J. Hilary Billings, argued that his client should be released under house arrest, with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet to ensure he doesn’t leave, and that he have his mail screened and be barred from using a computer.

“This isn’t somebody who is going to be spasmodically violent,” he said. “He has a degree of paranoia, but there’s no evidence of any (violent) actions on his part.”

He said the gun that agents seized, which Thomas bought in Houlton in 2004 for personal protection, has never been fired. Thomas has never been charged with physically harming anyone.

Billings conceded that the country is keenly aware of the possibility of attacks on political figures, since the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in January in Arizona.

“To take this kind of sick, disabled individual,” Billings said of Thomas, “and the only way to respond to him is imprisonment, it’s a response of fear … The response doesn’t have to be one of fear. It could be one of compassion.”

Thomas does not have a car and depends on Social Security disability insurance and food stamps to survive, Billings said. He sees a therapist once a week but is not on medication. He attempted suicide in the 1980s but was never hospitalized involuntarily, Billings said.

Thomas lives in an apartment at Loring House, a subsidized facility for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

The Portland Housing Authority, which operates Loring House, used to ban guns from the premises, but the ban was deemed unconstitutional after a challenge by the National Rifle Association on behalf of two residents.

Police identified Thomas as a suspect in the letters to LePage and obtained his DNA profile, which had been developed in 2005 for a case in which a letter with white powder was mailed to Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Mass., which he attended as a boy.

The DNA profile did not match evidence from that letter, and Thomas was not charged. But postal inspectors who worked with the FBI on the current case obtained the DNA profile from the company that had developed it, Flick said.

A forensic analyst at the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory matched Thomas’ DNA to the profile, Flick said.

Thomas admitted Friday that he mailed the letter to the prep school, Flick said. During that case, Thomas changed his name from Shawn Higgins, which he told the agents was an attempt to get a fresh start.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]