2 men charges with conspiring to threaten Stupak

By John Flesher
Associated Press Writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Two men have been charged with conspiring to threaten U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak and his family because of the Michigan Democrat’s crucial vote for the health care overhaul, federal authorities said Monday.

The charges followed an FBI investigation of a letter sent to Stupak that said the writer would “paint the Mackinaw Bridge with the blood of you and your family members,” authorities said. The letter misspelled the Mackinac Bridge, which links Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Bay City identified the suspects as Russell Hesch, 73, of West Branch, and his son, 50-year-old David Hesch of Loveland, Colo. An FBI affidavit describes the elder Hesch as one of Stupak’s “most vocal and critical constituents.”

Russell Hesch made an initial appearance in U.S. District in Bay City last Friday and is being held pending a detention hearing, which has not been scheduled, said spokeswoman Gina Balaya of the federal prosecutor’s office.

“Based on the complaint that has been filed through the court thus far, my client is absolutely not guilty,” said Robert Dunn, court-appointed attorney for Russell Hesch.

Authorities were preparing to appoint an attorney for David Hesch, who appeared Monday in federal court in Denver, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office there.

Stupak, 58, emerged as a high-profile figure in the health care debate. He acted as chief negotiator and spokesman for about a dozen House Democrats who were withholding their support out of concern the bill would allow federal funding of abortions.

After reaching a deal with Democratic leaders and the White House, Stupak voted for the bill on March 21. Anti-abortion groups labeled him a traitor and he became a lightning rod for the Tea Party movement, which vowed to defeat him.

Stupak announced April 9 he would not seek a 10th term, saying enactment of the health care bill meant his primary legislative goal had been accomplished.

According to an affidavit filed by FBI special agent Travis E. Lloyd, an aide to the congressman picked up a letter addressed to “Stupak family” at the post office in his home city of Menominee on May 25.

Signed, “The Devil within Us,” it sharply criticized Stupak for his health care vote.

“You, sir, have sold your sole to the devil,” it said, adding that “actions have consequences” and asking whether Stupak’s wife, Laurie, and son Ken were “prepared for those consequences.”

It said, “I will paint the Mackinaw Bridge with the blood of you and your family members. I will not say when and with who but I will save your blood for the high towers toward the end of this project. You will live long enough to truly experience the unfortunate but definite consequences of your decision. ... I have the means, the resources, and the commitment ... to fully execute this plan.”

The affidavit says the FBI concluded Russell Hesch probably wrote the letter after comparing it with more than 50 e-mails and letters he previously had sent Stupak.

Stupak told investigators he had met Hesch several times during community gatherings and that Hesch had “always been civil,” the affidavit said.

It said Hesch signed a statement Friday admitting he had written the letter and sent it to David Hesch, instructing him to mail it to Stupak from Denver so it would not be linked to either of them.

Stupak praised investigators in a statement Monday.

“I deeply appreciate their vigilance and professionalism throughout this investigation and in ensuring the safety and security of my family,” he said.

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