November 28, 2012

Man who threatened LePage, others gets 6-year sentence

The defendant says mental illness played a role in his death letters to Gov. Paul LePage and congressmen.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A Portland man who sent obscenity-laced death threats to Gov. Paul LePage and two members of Congress was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in federal prison.

Michael Thomas, formerly known as Sean or Shawn Higgins, had pleaded guilty in an agreement with prosecutors to two counts of threatening to murder a member of Congress -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa -- one count of mailing threatening communications to LePage, one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, and one count of interstate stalking.

Thomas sent a letter to LePage on Jan. 6, 2011, that read, "I'm ready to vote with a bullet" and "I've got you in my crosshairs," according to federal court records.

Thomas wrote in a letter to Lieberman's office in Hartford, Conn., on May 5, 2010, and a letter to King's office in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2010, that the men "should be shot dead." He used the same phrase in both letters, according to court records.

Thomas, 52, stood before U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby during Wednesday's sentencing hearing and asked for "clemency" after listing mental illnesses for which he is now being treated.

"I realize what I did was wrong," Thomas said. He spoke in a clear voice, at times shaking his head from side to side as he stood in an orange prison uniform with his arms at his sides.

Thomas' attorney, Assistant Federal Defender J. Hilary Billings, had asked for Thomas to receive a prison sentence of three years, followed by a term of supervised release. Billings argued that imprisoning his client would not deter other people with mental illness from criminal acts.

The judge sided with the sentence recommended by the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff, and imposed a 71-month prison term followed by three years of supervised release.

The case against Thomas centers around letters he mailed to the public officials in 2010 and 2011, leading FBI agents to search his apartment at 1125 Brighton Ave. in Portland on March 25, 2011.

Agents seized a handgun from a cabinet in Thomas' bedroom. Thomas had been convicted of felony stalking in Massachusetts in 2000 and wasn't allowed to have a gun, Wolff said in court filings.

As the FBI investigated the death-threat letters, in March 2011 a DNA analyst matched a DNA profile from a postage stamp on a threatening letter to LePage with Thomas' profile.

Authorities had his profile on record from an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in 2005, in which authorities sought to tie Thomas to an envelope containing a white powder and an anonymous message to Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Mass.

Thomas, who went by the name Sean Higgins in 2005, was not charged in connection with the white powder mailing, but his sample and photograph remained, according to an affidavit that the FBI filed seeking a search warrant.

In the interstate stalking charge, Thomas sent anonymous letters to and about a Danvers, Mass., man from July 2006 to March 2011, Wolff said in court records.

Wolff said Thomas served time in prison from 2000 to mid-2002 for past crimes and continued his criminal behavior after he was released.

"We are talking about an unbroken period of criminal conduct that spans from 1996 to 2011," Wolff said, arguing for the 71-month prison sentence, the maximum allowed under federal sentencing guidelines.

Billings argued that Thomas never acted on any of his violent threats or ever fired his gun, and that intervention, more than prison, would help his underlying problem of mental illness.

"He's an isolated and alienated individual. There aren't any support networks for him," Billings said, indicating that no friends or family members had come to court to support Thomas. "He's sick, suffering from mental illness."

In issuing the sentence, the judge acknowledged Billings' argument that sentencing Thomas to prison will not necessarily act as a deterrent to other mentally ill people, but said it may be a deterrent to others.

In addition to the prison sentence and supervised release, Hornby ordered Thomas to get mental health treatment, take prescribed medication, avoid alcohol and controlled substances, and have no contact with the victim of the interstate stalking charge.

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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