By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
Rosemary Ho, an honors dental hygiene student in Phoenix, was admittedly miffed when she got a speeding ticket in New Mexico while on her way to see family in New Orleans.
But the pique that prompted her to put pink gooey stuff in the wrong place did not send her to the principal's office.
Instead, the bubble gum she placed on her citation sent Ho to federal court.
Ho is on trial in Albuquerque before Senior U.S. District Judge John Edwards Conway, charged with two felony counts of mailing threatening communications.
Ho, 24, sent a money order for $80 to the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division's Penalty Assessment Division in 2003 to pay the traffic ticket. She also sent a chewed-up blob of Extra bubble gum attached to her citation and a 3-inch yellow sticky note with ten words that sent the FBI looking for her, court documents say.
"Caution Touch at your own risk or use gloves. Ha-ha," the note said. The word "caution" was highlighted in pink.
Ho's ticket for driving 80 mph in a 65-mph zone now looks benign compared to the potential penalty of up to five years per count if a jury convicts her.
Ho allegedly put the ticket and payment in the mail in September 2003. Its receipt in the Santa Fe MVD office set in motion a cascade of events and people. Hazmat teams. Physicians drawing blood. DNA analysis. Forensic analysis comparing the writing on the yellow sticky note with handwriting samples Ho was required to submit.
The employee who opened the envelope, Juanita Rowley, did not think it was a joke, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Sirignano told the jury as the trial began Tuesday.
Rowley, who is expected to testify today, told her supervisor about the note and blob. The supervisor put the items in a plastic bag. MVD law enforcement called in the FBI, who went looking for Ho in Phoenix in December.
FBI Phoenix Assistant Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator Adam L. Angst found Ho through her driver's license address- actually, her aunt's home- and persuaded her to come into the FBI office.
Ho showed up alone and was ushered to a conference room, where Angst and another agent spoke to her. They did not advise her of her rights because, Angst said, she was not going to be arrested.
During a two-hour interview, Ho initially disavowed having placed the bubble gum or note on the traffic ticket, but ultimately began "quietly sobbing," Angst testified. He left the room and returned. She eventually gave a statement or confession, as he called it, expressing remorse at her actions and a desire to apologize to the MVD employee.
Angst said prosecutors in Albuquerque would make a decision on how the case might proceed.
Sirignano has argued in court pleadings that in a post-9/11, post-anthrax-mail world, Rowley reasonably believed an actual threat had been made.
Though blood tests later showed no contaminants, Rowley "react(ed) the way any reasonable public service employee would" in the current sociopolitical climate.
Alonzo Padilla, who represents Ho, told jurors that although they could expect to hear from a bevy of experts, most of their testimony and their testing was unnecessary because she hasn't contested much of their evidence.
"This was not anything that was dangerous," he said. "It was a piece of bubble gum. She told agents she'd chewed the gum and placed items inside the envelope. What it comes to is whether or not that communication on the Post-it note was a threat."
Padilla said Ho may be guilty of bad taste or poor judgment, but by the end of trial, "the only logical conclusion you can come to is that my client is not a terrorist.
"(This was) the stupid act of a young girl, but it was not a threat."
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