KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A man once sent to prison for threatening to bomb the federal courthouse in Kansas City was charged Friday with an extortion plot involving threats to the water supply in several Midwest cities, including Wichita.
Federal prosecutors in Kansas City also alleged Friday that 69-year-old Manuel Garcia made calls threatening the water supplies of Kansas City, St. Louis and Topeka.
“It’s good news for us,” Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said Friday afternoon when informed of the arrest. “We’ve been very protective of our water resources in this incident.”
An FBI agent involved in the previous bomb threat case recognized Garcia’s voice on the calls. When contacted by agents, Garcia told them that two men he knew intended to poison the water supplies of the four cities, according to court documents filed Friday.
Garcia allegedly told the agents that for $10,000 and a grant of immunity, he would help authorities locate the two men who planned to dump 55-gallon drums of chemicals into the water supplies.
Authorities do not believe there ever was a credible threat to the water supply, said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
“The chemicals were as fictional as the conspirators in this imaginary plot,” she said. “We must nevertheless take such threats seriously and prosecute those who not only make threats, but attempt to illicitly profit from them.”
Upon hearing of the threat on Oct. 17, Wichita officials said the city’s water was safe but they beefed up security and asked residents to remain vigilant. The situation became public the following day after The Wichita Eagle obtained two internal city e-mails about the threat.
According to court documents, Kansas City police and federal authorities in Washington received calls Oct. 15 in which the caller stated that the water supplies of the four cities would be contaminated within the next 10 to 15 days.
Kansas City police received a third call Tuesday. In that call, the man said two men dressed in plumbing company uniforms and driving vans intended to poison the water supplies by the end of October.
All three calls came from the same number. Investigators determined that the calls were placed in the vicinity of cell towers in northeast Kansas City.
After the FBI agent recognized Garcia’s voice, his probation officer told agents that Garcia lived in the neighborhood where the calls originated, according to the court documents.
When FBI agents questioned Garcia on Wednesday, he told them that two men he knew as Raul and Shariff intended to carry out the plot. He said they had tested a chemical on horses that went into convulsions and died. That’s when he allegedly asked for the $10,000 to help find them.
In April 2010, Garcia called in a bomb threat to the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City. A fake bomb placed nearby prompted the evacuation of the courthouse and a nearby building.
In December 2010, Garcia was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the bomb threat. At his sentencing he attributed his actions to depression over losing his job, having his car repossessed, being homeless and owing large medical bills.
“I felt against the world,” he said at the time.
Contributing: The Wichita Eagle