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Conviction stands for former Idaho professor in hantavirus hoax

First Published      Last Updated Aug 14 2014 10:37 pm

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to overturn a former Idaho State University history professor's conviction connected to allegations that he mailed an envelope to a bankruptcy trustee claiming it may contain the deadly hantavirus.

Though the appeals court refused to dismiss the charge of perpetrating a hoax regarding the transmission of a biological agent, a three-judge panel ruled in its Tuesday decision that one of Thomas Francis Hale's convictions, related to statements he made about the underlying bankruptcy case while under oath, should be tossed.

According to the decision, Hale filed for bankruptcy in 2005. In the filing, he listed a Salt Lake City home with a market value of $190,000 — but later tried to sell the home for $395,000.

When he was questioned by a bankruptcy trustee while under oath, prosecutors claimed he made false statements about the information he gave. But the appeals court ruled Tuesday that the line of questioning was "ambiguous" and reversed the conviction.

Later, in November 2006, Hale sent the bankruptcy trustee a fax stating, "Please check out the possible haz-mat problem sent in an orange envelope today." The trustee received an envelope a few days later with, "Caution! Hand-cancel please!" scrawled on the outside. Inside, was a plastic bag containing a brown substance with a note that read, "Possible Haz-mat? Termites of Hanta virus [sic] from mice?"

Laboratory tests later revealed no hazardous materials, according to the FBI.

Hales' attorneys argued that the charge related to perpetrating a hoax should be dismissed because he was convicted under the wrong statute and argued that prosecutors failed to show that his actions were not for "peaceful purposes," according to the decision. The appeals court rejected both arguments, and order that the conviction stand.

The judges also ruled that Hale's conviction of concealment of property will also stand, rejecting arguments that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the conviction.

A federal judge sentenced Hale to spend 27 months in prison last June for the crimes.

Hale had taught at Idaho State University for 23 years before his 2006 arrest.


Twitter: @jm_miller