Inmate charged in letter scare at Freehold Borough courthouse

FREEHOLD — Michael Francis Cody, 30, has been charged with one count of third-degree terroristic threats and one count of third-degree false public alarm in connection with an incident that occurred at the Monmouth County Courthouse at 9 a.m. Jan. 3.

According to a press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, at all times relevant to the alleged offense Cody has been an inmate at East Jersey State Prison, Rahway, where he is serving a 10-year sentence on a 1999 aggravated assault conviction from Middlesex County.

Authorities learned of this incident when an employee at the central fee office in the courthouse opened a letter at her desk at about 9 a.m. Jan. 3. The employee opened the letter and a white powder substance came out. The employee advised her supervisor and calls were made to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department and the prosecutor. Sheriff’s officers took possession of the letter and secured it in a hazardous material bag.

The Monmouth County Health Depart-ment hazardous material team responded to ensure the safety of the area.

According to the press release, an investigation revealed that the envelope contained a letter written on a piece of white paper. The letter said "Boo — Anthrax or baby powder? Or both." The envelope that contained the letter was a traditional white business-size envelope addressed to the Clerk of the Superior Court. The return address on the envelope was the initials and inmate number of an inmate at East Jersey State Prison. Markings on the envelope verified that the envelope had been mailed from the state prison.

An investigation revealed that the person whose initials and inmate number appeared as the return address was not the individual responsible for the mailing. The investigation revealed that Cody had previously been a cell mate of that individual and had had disagreements with him.

According to the press release, the investigation suggested that Cody sent the letter in an effort to cause problems for the inmate. The inmate had originally been convicted in Monmouth County.

The white powdery substance was submitted to the state Health Department laboratory in Trenton where it tested negative for anthrax or any other weapon of mass destruction.

Approximately 20 court employees were working in the central fee area at the time the letter was received. Each was evacuated from the central fee area once the letter was received.

If convicted on all charges, Cody faces a period of incarceration not to exceed 10 years and fines not to exceed $30,000. This matter will be presented to a grand jury for its review in approximately one month.