UPDATE: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 5, 2016 — The man taken into custody by the FBI on Tuesday was arraigned today in Michigan’s 15th District Court in Ann Arbor on two counts of poisoning food, drink, medicine or water supply, causing property damages and two counts poisoning drink. medicine or water supply.
The state charges were brought against 29-year-old Kyle Andrew Bessemer of Ann Arbor. A $250,000 cash bond was set and should Bessemer manage to post it, he will be subject to house arrest. According to the complaint, the defendant has a history of mental illness and may have thought someone wanted to poison him. His probable cause hearing is scheduled for May 12.
When someone sets out to intentionally poison food, the dividing line between bioterrorism and just a prank or malicious mischief comes down to motive and, more importantly, whether anyone was sickened or worse.
The motive of the man the FBI has in custody for spraying a mixture that included mouse poison on unpackaged foods at grocery stores in the Ann Arbor, MI, area isn’t yet known. Michigan health officials say they don’t know of anyone who was sickened.
The man, though not yet charged or identified, is said to have mixed alcohol-based hand-sanitizer, water, and mouse poison. Then he went to three Ann Arbor grocery stores and sprayed it on fresh produce and open food bars. He admitted to spraying the poison mixture at Whole Foods Market, 990 W. Eisenhower Parkway; Meijer, 3145 Ann Arbor-Saline Road; and Plum Market; 375 North Maple Road.
Officials report he may have repeated the routine at stores in the Saginaw and Midland. Jennifer Eisner, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said there hasn’t been an uptick in poison control reports or specific illnesses.
The health officials figure that since the man sprayed fresh foods, they’ve probably been consumed. If so, the threat is passed.
The intentional adulteration of food in interstate commerce is one possible federal felony charge that could be filed against the man who was arrested Tuesday. His image was captured by in-store video cameras.
State and local health officials, along with local police in the cities involved, are working with the FBI on the ongoing investigation.
Incidents of bioterrorism are rare and only one has involved food in the U.S. in the last 32 years. That came in the Oregon town along the Columbia River known as The Dalles.
In September 1984 followers of the cult leader Baghran Shree Rajneesh sought to sway a county election by poisoning the salad bars at ten local restaurants. The cult succeeded in sickening 751 area residents, sending 45 to area hospitals.
The poison used was salmonella and for a time there was doubt about whether it was an intentional act. An Oregon State Police-FBI task force cracked the case by finding the outbreak strain of salmonella inside a Rajneeshpuram medical laboratory. Two top cult officials were convicted on charges of attempted murder and served 29 months in a federal prison.
At the time, the Rajneesh followers had moved into the town of Antelope, OR, and by sickening so many residents of The Dalles around election day, they had hoped to win a county office.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)© Food Safety News