A bizarre extortion case today went on trial at the federal court in Chicago. In the dock was John P. Tomkins, of Dubuque, Iowa, accused of sending pipe bombs and threat letters to several mutual-fund companies in a unique – if sinister – attempt to drive up stock value.
47 year old Tomkins, who habitually signed his menacing letters as “The Bishop” had been sending death threats and packages containing unarmed pipe bombs to American Century Investments and Janus Capital Group Inc. (NYSE:JNS) when he was arrested in 2007 in Kansas City Missouri.
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Executives from the two companies had both received letters warning them to comply with Tomkin’s demands, with the implied threat that people around them might be in danger if they did not.
Subsequent to Tomkin’s arrest it has come to light that American Century and Janus were not the only victims. In addition, “The Bishop” is also accused of using his scare tactics on other investment firms, specifically in order to increase the stock price of two public companies: software distributor Navarre (NAV) and 3Com, an IT networking developer.
Company representatives were faced with stark consequences if they refused to comply. William F. D’Alonzo, CEO of Delaware investment consultants Friess Associates, received an epistle from “The Bishop” in 2005, informing him that he had been selected for “a project”. D’Alonzo was instructed to force the value of 3Com stock to the infernal value of $6.66 per share by 31st October 2005. Failure would result in dire consequences for both him and his staff. “It’s easy to kill people”, The Bishop warned before dispatching his letter with a flourish.
On questioning in court, D’Alonzo confessed that he saw the letter as something of a joke, and immediately reported it to the FBI without taking the threats seriously.
Undeterred, the would-be extortionist Tomkins tried his hand at threatening Omaha based investment firm Wallace R. Weitz & Co. Owner Wallace Weitz received a demand to drive the value of Navarre stock by 1st May 2006 – again to the satanic inspired value of $6.66 per share. “It must be done by then” spake The Bishop, “no excuses!”
It is easy in retrospect to dismiss Tomkins as a laughable joke of a character, a petty crook of the lowest cunning – especially as “The Bishop” made not a single cent out of all his efforts. However, to do so would be to discount the very real danger posed by his alleged crimes.
Following Tomkin’s arrest, the explosive devices sent to American Century and Janus Capital Group Inc. (NYSE:JNS were examined by US Postal Inspector Kevin Freeman in April 2007. In a sworn statement, Freeman said:
“The device was determined to be technically functional, but the firing circuit was not fully connected. Had a partially disconnected wire been connected to the device’s battery, the device would have instantly exploded.”
Had this occurred, death or very serious injury would certainly have occurred, a grim reality that stands behind the sentences that loom over “The Bishop” should he be convicted. Tomkins is indicted for no less than nine cases of sending threatening letters with intent to extort money – each one carrying a maximum sentence of twenty years. There are two more counts of possessing an illegal destructive device, each punishable by ten years imprisonment. As if this were not enough, Tomkins is also accused of using a destructive device in the pursuit of violent crime, an indictment that carries a 30 year minimum sentence, to be served consecutively with any other sentence issued.
Tomkins, who is acting as his own attorney, refused to make an opening statement in court yesterday but has pleaded not guilty to all charges.