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Mississippi man cleared of poison-letters charges sues feds

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An Elvis impersonator and singer in Mississippi is suing the federal government for wrongful arrest after he was charged and later cleared of sending poisoned letters to President Barack Obama.

Paul Kevin Curtis of Corinth filed a lawsuit April 30 in federal court in Aberdeen, claiming that prosecutors continued to hold him in jail even after they knew there was no evidence that he had mailed letters dusted with a crude form of ricin to Obama, Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and a Lee County judge.

“The defendants conspired and acted in concert with one another to deprive plaintiff of his constitutionally protected rights,” the suit states.

Federal agents eventually arrested another man, James Everett Dutschke of Tupelo, Mississippi. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and is being held at the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado. Dutschke has filed multiple motions to set aside his conviction.

Named specifically in Curtis’ lawsuit are the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

The lawsuit says Curtis made an administrative demand for payment more than six months ago, but that the government hasn’t responded. It describes the federal inquiry in April 2013 as a “substandard investigation” where agents lied to Curtis in an attempt to get him to confess, even though the only evidence they had was that the letters used similar phrases to those Curtis had written in Internet postings. Dutschke, who had past conflicts with Curtis, apparently copied those phrases to make authorities believe Curtis sent the letters.

“The agents used everything short of waterboarding to force a confession from Kevin Curtis, all based on something he posted on Facebook,” the suit states.

The suit asserts that federal agents knew as early as April 19 that they had no physical evidence against Curtis, even though charges weren’t dropped until April 23.

Hal Neilson, one of the lawyers representing Curtis, has a tangled history with the FBI and federal prosecutors in northern Mississippi. He led the FBI’s north Mississippi office until he was removed after sparring with then-U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee over what Nielsen considered improper actions. Nielson was later indicted on charges that he failed to report his ownership interest in the Oxford FBI building and then lied about it. Nielson was acquitted on some charges and the rest were dismissed.

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