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A 45-year-old Pine County man was charged Monday with mailing six envelopes with white powder and threatening letters to the county’s Government Center, prompting its evacuation in November.
But that was not the first time Johnnie Earl Long had made threats, investigators say. For months, according to the charges, Long had been building fake explosives and placing them in mailboxes and driveways — including, in several cases, his own — in an attempt to frame his ex-wife and her boyfriend.
Long, of Braham, also allegedly faked his own kidnapping two times. He faces 21 felony counts of making terroristic threats and real and simulated weapons of mass destruction, plus two misdemeanor counts of falsely reporting a crime.
“The past incidents were all under the guise of somebody out to get him,” said Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell. “After a while … we started saying, ‘OK, is he truly the victim? Or what’s going on?’
“Honestly, who gets kidnapped twice in six weeks?”
The Pine County Government Center was shut down in November after envelopes containing a typed letter and powder were sent to two judges, the county attorney, the sheriff and two sheriff’s deputies. The envelopes bore Long’s return address, the charges say.
Inside, the letters castigated their recipients for not arresting Long, and “for that you also must be held responsible what he has done,” they said. “By not doing your job, you have left everyone in grave danger. By the time you receive this letter, we will have already taken care of that cheating low life liar.”
They ended with: “I hope you all rot in HELL right with John!!!!!”
An analysis showed the powder contained a bacteria often used as a pesticide, bacillus thuringiensis, “generally considered to be harmless to humans,” the charges say.
The Sheriff’s Office arrested Long on Friday, after investigators — including those from the FBI — linked the Government Center threats to those made by Long in the summer and fall. “This arrest was the culmination of a several-month, multiagency investigation regarding the activities of Long,” the charges say.
According to a detailed, six-page narrative with the charges, Long for months crafted homemade devices, threatening e-mails and strange tales meant to implicate his ex-wife, Joann Heurung, who filed for divorce in 2012. Earlier this year, Long pleaded guilty to violating an order for protection against him.
Long allegedly told investigators that the order was filled with lies built by Heurung, her boyfriend and her mother.
“Long described feeling that his good name and reputation were stolen by him by a bunch of lies,” the charges say. ““He wanted them to be accused of doing things that they hadn’t done, just as he felt he had.”
In July, Long allegedly mailed a letter with white powder and a letter that said “U R DEAD” to the attorney who represented his ex-wife during their divorce proceedings. A few weeks later, “a device that appeared to be an explosive device was found in the driveway” near the attorney’s house. It had the attorney’s name spelled in black stickers. “Although the device appeared harmful, it was a simulated weapon of mass destruction,” the charges say.
Long allegedly told investigators that he got the idea for the device, which he described as a “Drano bomb,” from his cousins who live in Idaho. The bombs often feature blue or clear liquid in plastic bottles with items such as BBs and tin foil inside.
They were “one step away” from being explosive, Blackwell said. “Each device was a little more sophisticated, a little more intricate than the last.”
Officers responded to Long’s residence several times after he and his neighbors reported seeing explosive devices in his driveway. In August, two men found similar devices on their own properties. In one instance, officers responded to a call from Long’s neighbor and defused a fake-bomb made with a Gatorade bottle that had been put under his mailbox.
The neighbor “was aware of the devices that had been found on Long’s property recently,” the charges say. “He said he, his daughter and many of the other neighbors were very nervous and upset by all of this.”
Last week, Long reported being kidnapped for the second time. He told sheriff’s deputies that he had been driving home when what he thought was a police officer stopped him, put a black nylon bag on his head and handcuffed him. After being released, he “was able to break free from his handcuffs,” he allegedly told investigators.
“He again blamed his ex-wife and [her boyfriend] for being responsible,” the charges say. Their goal was to make him miss his court date in Ramsey County for violating the order for protection, Long said.
Long appeared in court Monday before an Anoka County judge, who set his bail at $500,000 with conditions and $1 million without. Pine County judges who had been sent the powder were removed from the case.
Officers searched Long’s house and found white powder, shotgun shells, a cellphone and sticker letters, according to the charges. He then allegedly admitted to making up the kidnapping tales, crafting the devices and sending the letters to the Government Center. But he said the powder was just flour or powdered sugar.
“Long denied wanting to hurt anyone or see anyone put in jail,” the charges say. “He claimed his only goal was to get his good reputation back and gain sympathy from those around him.”