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Feds begin investigation on Latino hate mailings

Staff and wire reports
Friday March 15, 2002

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating letters received by Latino organizations this week containing ethnic slurs and a white powder purported to be anthrax.  

Four Berkeley-based groups, one on the UC campus, were also sent the mailings. A few dozen were received throughout the Bay Area and Sacramento. 

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft called the anthrax hoax letters “serious violations of federal law.” 

The powder in the letters tested negative for anthrax and was sent to FBI laboratories for further testing, Justice spokesman Dan Nelson said Wednesday. 

Gov. Gray Davis released a statement Thursday condemning the actions as cowardly and divisive and calling the senders “hate-mongers.” 

“We will not tolerate your acts of hate and when we find you, you will answer to the strongest anti-hate laws in the country,” he said.  

About three dozen people have been charged nationwide with perpetrating anthrax hoaxes. 

“Perpetrators of criminal acts, targeting Americans because of their race or heritage, will not be permitted,” Ashcroft said. “We are committed to identifying, tracking down and prosecuting domestic terrorists who threaten the lives and welfare of innocent Americans.” 

The FBI and the Justice Department’s civil rights and criminal divisions are investigating the mailings, authorities said. 

The letters were received Monday and Tuesday by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials; League of United Latin American Citizens; Aspira Association Inc.; and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, all in Washington. Other organizations that received letters include five offices of the National Council of La Raza in the Southwest United States, in Texas, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund in Sacramento, Calif. 

One of the letters also was opened Monday by a staffer at the California Chicano News Media Association in Los Angeles. 

“She didn’t notice the powder until she was preparing to make a photocopy of the letter, which tilted, spilling the stuff on the machine and her pant leg,” the association’s Executive Director Julio Moran said. 

“It was a generic letter, full of ranting and raving that was not addressed to us specifically — except for the envelope,” Moran said.