A quick glance at Daniel Frisiello’s Facebook page makes a few things clear: The Catholic Charities worker is a self-identified Democrat, fierce critic of President Trump, and an ardent supporter of gun control, among other causes.
But the 24-year-old Beverly resident allegedly crossed the line last month, mailing threatening hoax letters containing white powder to President Trump’s oldest son and four other prominent figures, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday, FBI agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Frisiello at the home he shares with his parents, on federal charges of mailing threats and false information and hoaxes, authorities said at a morning news conference.
Frisiello made an initial appearance in US District Court in Worcester on Thursday afternoon and was ordered held pending a probable cause hearing Monday, prosecutors said. Frisiello showed no emotion as he was led into court wearing a red polo shirt with his hands cuffed and ankles shackled.
A prosecutor said family members told them Frisiello may be on medications for suicidal thoughts. His lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment.
The letter to Donald Trump Jr., postmarked from Boston, generated national headlines last month when his wife opened it at the couple’s New York home. She was taken to an area hospital after being exposed to white powder, which investigators determined to be nontoxic.
An affidavit in the case said Frisiello allegedly wrote to Trump Jr., “You are an awful, awful person, I am surprised that your father lets you speak on TV. You make the family idiot, Eric, look smart. This is the reason why people hate you, so you are getting what you deserve. So shut the [expletive] UP!”
Frisiello allegedly sent threatening notes containing white powder to the offices of US Senator Deborah Stabenow of Michigan; US Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the central district of California, Stanford law professor Michele Dauber; and Antonio Sabato Jr., an actor and Republican congressional candidate in California.
While the white powder in each note was deemed nontoxic and no one was hurt, Frisiello’s alleged conduct unsettled people and forced a massive, costly law enforcement response as analysts tested the powder and hunted for the suspect, authorities said.
“These kinds of hoaxes may not cause physical harm, but they scare the heck out of people,” said Andrew E. Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts, during the Thursday morning news conference. “Because most of us recall the anthrax mailings of the early 2000s, when five people were killed.”
Lelling said his office would “aggressively prosecute these kinds of cases to deter other people who might be tempted to do the same thing.”
He said computer and bank records, social media postings, and even a search of trash outside Frisiello’s residence linked him to the threatening messages.
Two of the notes dealt with high-profile child exploitation cases involving serial molester and former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and Mark Salling, a former star of the hit television show “Glee” who killed himself while awaiting sentencing in a child pornography case.
In a note sent to Stabenow’s district office in Michigan, Frisiello made an apparent reference to her comment that she wished security had been slower in restraining Randy Margraves, the father of three of Nassar’s victims who charged at the doctor during a court hearing, records show.
“If you condone Margraves reaction to his daughter’s testimony on Dr. Nassar, you are no better than he is,” Frisiello wrote, according to the affidavit.
A spokesman for Stabenow said Thursday that the office doesn’t comment on threats, to protect staff and constituents.
The note to Stabenow was postmarked from Boston on Feb. 12. Frisiello had criticized the Democrat on Facebook days earlier for her Margraves remark, writing that he was “embarrassed to be in part of the same party as her.”
Frisiello’s note to Hanna blasted the prosecutor’s office for its work on the Salling case, which resulted in the actor pleading guilty to child pornography possession before he killed himself in January.
“That’s for murdering Mark Salling!” Frisiello wrote in the note he mailed to Hanna’s office, according to the affidavit. “Hope you end up the same place as Salling.”
In addition to his party affiliation, Frisiello identified himself on Facebook as a Catholic Charities employee.
Catholic Charities of Boston said in a statement that Frisiello was placed on leave from his job in their Peabody Child Care Center immediately after his arrest and that the FBI “has assured us that the charges do not involve any activity in his role” with the organization.
The charity said it conducted “the appropriate background checks” when Frisiello was hired.
Frisiello’s note to Dauber, who chairs a California group seeking to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who came under fire for sentencing a former Stanford swimmer to six months in jail for sexual assault, was also hostile, according to the affidavit. A co-worker opened the letter.
“Since you are going to disrobe Persky, I am going to treat you like ‘Emily Doe,’ ” Frisiello wrote, in an apparent reference to suspect Brock Turner’s victim, the filing said.
Dauber said Thursday in a statement that she was relieved authorities had made an arrest.
“Our campaign is not going to be intimidated by threats,” Dauber said.
Frisiello’s missive to Sabato, meanwhile, contained anti-Semitic slurs, according to the filing.
“You’re an awful awful person I am surprised that that olive skin mouth isn’t orange,” he wrote. “Since you think Obama is still a practicing Muslim that makes you a filthy [expletive].”
Peter F. Kowenhoven, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office, said Thursday that the arrest of Frisiello should give pause to anyone pondering similar actions.
“There are plenty of appropriate, lawful ways to express your opinion and voice your displeasure,” he said during the news conference. “But inducing panic and sending what is believed to be a weapon of mass destruction through the mail is not one of them.”