'Bishop' found guilty of sending dud pipe bombs, threatening letters

Tomkins represented himself during trial; spoke of himself in third person

Associated Press
Published: May 4 2012 | 11:32 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 6:41 pm in

A former Iowa letter carrier was found guilty Friday of sending dud pipe bombs to investment advisers, along with threatening letters signed "The Bishop," in a scheme to boost the value of shares he owned in two companies.

John Tomkins of Dubuque was convicted just hours after jurors began deliberating in federal court in Chicago. Tomkins, who admitted sending the packages but insisted they never would explode, looked dejected as he rocked in a swivel chair while the verdict was read.

Jailed since his 2007 arrest, Tomkins represented himself during his trial on charges of mailing threatening communications, illegal possession of a destructive device and using a destructive device in connection with a violent crime. The conviction on all counts could mean a sentence of more than 200 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Tomkins sent letters from 2005 until 2007 threatening to kill recipients, their families or neighbors unless they acted to raise stock prices in 3COM Corp. and Navarre Corp. They included notes reading, "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD."

Tomkins on Thursday called himself to the stand and delivered his own closing argument, speaking about himself in the third person.

A deferential Tomkins admitted he sent the letters and fake bombs in a money-making scheme. But he said even though he had the expertise to make them explode, he carefully designed them so they couldn't — not even accidentally.

Government attorneys, however, insisted the bombs mailed from a suburban Chicago post office could have gone off. During the trial, a prosecutor held up cut pipe, a jar of explosive powder and other parts to show jurors the bombs were real.

Tomkins portrayed himself as a simple, small-town union man fond of building race cars in his garage. Seconds after starting his closing argument Thursday, he stopped, unhinged his clip-on tie and told jurors, "That's not who I am. ... I'm a machinist."

Speaking as if there were two John Tomkinses, he conceded he had committed crimes.

"The whole criminal episode has been horrific," he said, also admitting he signed taunting letters "The Bishop." ''You do not have to like Mr. Tomkins. He screwed up."

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