Then-Chicago Ald. Bernard Stone was in his North Side ward office one night in 2007 when he opened a large envelope addressed to him and white powder came flying out, covering his arm and that of an aide as well.
"I jumped up and said to call 911," the retired 86-year-old City Hall stalwart testified today before a federal jury. "…I was worried it was anthrax."
Police and a fire department hazmat team responded and eventually determined the substance was harmless, said Stone, whose political career ended in 2011 after more than six decades. He recalled that the letter – which he never read in full –seemed to be complaining about real estate taxes.
Prosecutors allege Ronald Haddad Jr., an unemployed River Forest resident on trial, sent the letter. Prosecutors say Haddad, 38, was obsessed over taxes and oil prices and waging a "campaign of terror" by mailing 28 expletive-filled missives to city officials, oil company executives and others from 2007 to 2009.
Many of the letters – which also were sent to then-Mayor Richard Daley and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- contained white powder or other mysterious substances designed to terrify the targets into thinking they had been poisoned, prosecutor said. Other packages sent by Haddad contained devices made from shotgun shells and firecrackers designed to look like improvised bombs. No one was injured by any of the mailings.
An attorney for Haddad Jr., however, told jurors in opening remarks that no physical evidence ties him to the mailings and that prosecutors jumped to conclusions after finding emails he'd written using similarly militant phrases.
Stone was the only politician who opened the letter personally. The others were opened by mail room clerks or office assistants, not the intended targets.
A longtime fixture of Rogers Park and former vice mayor under Daley, Stone walked to the witness stand in U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall’s courtroom while using a walker for balance.
After his hands were covered in white powder, he testified, "Everybody jumped. We were all very upset."
"We went to the washroom and cleaned ourselves up," Stone said. He said he told another aide to "keep the door closed" until the fire department arrived.
On cross-examination, Haddad’s attorney, Andrea Gambino, asked Stone general questions about the "Daley Machine" and several political controversies that were swirling back in 2007 and 2008, including the installation of surveillance cameras on city streets, the high price of gas in Chicago and the parking meter privatization debacle pushed through City Council by Daley.
She also asked if he knew who sent him the letter.
"I have no personal knowledge, no," Stone said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun