By Karen Zautyk
On Jan. 31, just two days before the Super Bowl, letters containing a white powder resembling anthrax spores were delivered to six hotels near MetLife Stadium, including two in Lyndhurst: the Quality Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, both located on Polito Ave.
Intensive pre-game security prompted a massive response by law enforcement, including HazMat teams that determined the powder was harmless.
Last week, authorities in Dallas announced the arrest of a 66-year-old man who allegedly mailed more than 500 such hoax letters to targets around the world since December 2008. The suspect, Hong Minh Truong, of Rowlett, Texas, has not yet been charged specifically with the New Jersey hotel threats, but he is thought to have been the culprit.
According to Special Agent Diego Rodriguez of the FBI’s Dallas Field Office, “For almost six years, letters containing white powder — and believed to have been mailed by the same individual — have elicited law enforcement and public safety responses from numerous local, state and federal agencies. While it was determined that the mailings did not contain toxins or poisons, each incident required a field screening of the letter’s contents, which cost taxpayer dollars and diverted first-responder resources.”
Rodriguez said, “We believe Hong Minh Truong is responsible for the hundreds of letters sent to locations worldwide, including U.S. government offices, aerospace companies, schools, daycares, and recently, hotels in the vicinity of Super Bowl XLVIII.”
A statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas noted: “The language used in the letters [mailed since 2008], as well as the method of sending the letters, indicate that one person, Truong, is responsible for sending all of the hoax letters. In all but two of the batches of letters, a white-powder substance was included in the envelope.” (“Batches” refers to allegations that Truong would mail between 10 and 40 letters at a time.)
The other Bergen County hotels that received letters in January were in Rutherford, East Rutherford, Carlstadt and Hasbrouck Heights.
Truong was arrested in Texas on July 28 by FBI agents and U.S. Postal Service inspectors. He is charged in a federal complaint with “false information and hoaxes.” Prosecutors reportedly could decide whether to press further charges.
If convicted on the current charges, Truong faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Authorities did not speculate on the suspect’s motives, but the federal complaint cites a 2002 Dallas Police Department report stating that Truong claimed: to “hear voices in his head,” that “the FBI, DEA, ATF and police are after him and beaming radar into his body,” and that “the voices are telling him to do things he does not want to do.”