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Man gets home detention, probation for poisoned Christmas cards

Kelly Michael Burns, 71, was sentenced to house arrest and probation for mailing cards containing powdered pesticide and hoax messages such as "Merry Anthrax" to his former workplace. File Jackson County Jail booking photo.

A Klamath Falls man will serve house arrest for a hoax that wreaked havoc on his former workplace and led former coworkers to believe they were exposed to anthrax.

Kelly Michael Burns, 71, was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days of home detention and five years of probation in U.S. District Court in Medford for mailing tainted greeting cards to a Klamath Falls business that were filled with a powdered pesticide and contained messages that included “Merry Anthrax.”

Burns pleaded guilty to two counts of mailing threatening communications earlier this year, admitting he sent poisoned greeting cards in December 2019 and February 2020 to a business where he used to work as a welder.

Four employees who’d handled the cards believed that they’d been exposed to the biological weapon, and the threat prompted a prolonged decontamination at the workplace that involving a fire department hazardous materials team, according to a sentencing brief filed last month by Assistant U.S. John Brassell, who prosecuted the case. One of office workers who handled the mail was 10 weeks pregnant.

“After the long and embarrassing decontamination process, medical providers offered her a strong antibiotic and what she described as the following ultimatum: refuse the antibiotic and risk personal death or take the antibiotic and risk harm or defect to the unborn child,” Brassell wrote. “The victim made a choice that day and continues reliving that moment.”

The cards forced the company to halt operations, send 37 employees home and set up a temporary office to handle company operations.

The FBI arrested Burns in March of last year — weeks after a second wave of similar Valentine’s Day cards containing the pesticide and messages such as “Happy Anthrax,” according to earlier news reports.

Devin Huseby, Burns’ defense lawyer, said his client has “engaged in extraordinary post-offense rehabilitation.” Burns completed an intensive treatment program at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City that addressed both his mental health and his alcoholism, and is still engaged in outpatient treatment at the Klamath Falls VA clinic.

"This offense was also alcohol related and occurred while Mr. Burns was so drunk he cannot recall sending the letters with any clarity,“ Huseby wrote in a court document last month.

Huseby said his client “has shown unreserved repentance” for the crime.

“He expressed remorse during his psychological assessment while still incarcerated at the Jackson County Jail and apologized to the victims at the first opportunity counsel would allow it, immediately following his guilty plea,” Huseby wrote.

Brassell sought a two-year prison sentence, while Huseby sought no prison but an extended probation sentence.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane on Wednesday sentenced Burns to 180 days of location-monitored home detention, five years of federal probation and was ordered to repay $3,839.92 in restitution.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.