Iowa man convicted in pipe bomb case involving KC investment firm

An Iowa man who nicknamed himself “The Bishop” while terrorizing investment companies was convicted Friday in Chicago of mailing nearly a dozen threatening letters and two pipe bombs, including one to a Kansas City firm.

The former machinist and one-time letter carrier launched a 21-month terror and intimidation campaign in an effort to manipulate the price of two publicly traded stocks in which he owned shares. Research by a U.S. postal inspector eventually broke the case in the spring of 2007.

The jury that heard John P. Tomkins’ case over two weeks deliberated just two hours before returning guilty verdicts on all 12 counts. Tomkins, 47, of Dubuque, who had represented himself throughout the trial, looked visibly dejected — hunching forward in his chair, his eyes downcast.

A few minutes later, his composure regained, he politely asked for 90 days to prepare post-trial motions.

“Ninety days is a lot,” U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. said skeptically.

“There are a lot of issues,” Tomkins responded.

The most serious charge — using a destructive device while mailing a threatening communication — carries a mandatory sentence of at least 30 years. In all, Tomkins could face a more than 200-year term when sentenced Aug. 6.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that while these events happened five years ago, the victims who received these threats and bombs were struck with fear, and the agents who conducted this investigation potentially saved lives by apprehending this defendant before he posed any greater public peril,” said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Tomkins mailed the bombs Jan. 26, 2007, from a suburban Chicago post office.

One package was addressed to an individual at Janus Small Cap in Denver, which forwarded it unopened to a related entity in Chicago.

The second parcel was addressed to someone at Kansas City’s American Century Investments.

Experts testified that the bombs were functional, although the firing circuits were not connected fully, and they were capable of exploding as a result of jostling or impact.

Each package contained a letter stating in part: “Bang!! You’re dead.”

According to court documents, both letters continued: “Stop and think about that for a second. Think about the effect it would have on your family. The only reason you are still alive is because I did not attach one wire. If you do not believe me then go ahead and touch that red wire to the top of the battery pack. …

“Now imagine how you will feel when I mail that same package to one of your family members or neighbors or co-workers and yes I will be sure to connect all the little wires. Now if you decide you want to keep the people around you safe, you will do as I say.”

Tomkins also was convicted of mailing a dozen threatening letters to investment companies and individuals between May 23, 2005, and July 17, 2006.

Some were signed “The Bishop,” while others ended with the words “Tic Toc.”

Some of the letters demanded that the price of 3Com Corp. stock be raised to $6.66 by a certain date. Other demands were made for a rally in the stock price of Navarre Corp., a publicly traded technology and entertainment company.

During the trial, Tomkins frequently referred to himself in the third person, something the judge had instructed him to do to make it clear he wasn’t making a personal statement.

“The whole criminal episode has been horrific,” he said during his closing. “You do not have to like Mr. Tomkins. He screwed up.”