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Friday, September 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rigged letters mailed to officials in five states

Washington Gov. Gary Locke and four other governors received envelopes rigged with matches yesterday that were mailed from a Nevada state prison.

In some instances, small fires started when match heads swiped each other as the envelopes were opened. That didn't happen in Washington because an employee in the Legislature's mail room thought the envelope strange and handed it over to the State Patrol.

A similar envelope sent to Montana's governor prompted a two-hour evacuation of part of that state's Capitol. The governors of Idaho, Nebraska and Utah also received rigged mail. There were no reports of injuries.

All the letters appeared to have come from a maximum-security prison in Ely, Nev.

Glen Whorton, assistant director for the Nevada Corrections Department, said another letter turned up at the office of the state corrections director.

Barbara Ranf, chief of staff for Montana Gov. Judy Martz, said the match was contained in a white, business-size envelope and burned part of a piece of paper when it ignited.

She said the letter also contained a fuse and small plastic bag, but Martz said later that authorities had not confirmed the presence of a fuse.

Matches also ignited when letters to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns were opened by staff members in Boise and Lincoln and in the office of Jackie Crawford, the state corrections director in Carson City, Nev. There were no evacuations in those states.

Similar letters were sent to Locke and Gov. Olene Walker of Utah. In Utah, a bomb squad was called to handle the envelope.

The envelope addressed to Locke was opened by members of the State Patrol's Executive Protection Unit, said Patrol spokeswoman Nelsa Brodie. The envelope, which contained two pieces of paper and two matches, did not ignite, she said.

Whorton said two inmates whose names are on the envelopes are being questioned at the prison in eastern Nevada, though authorities aren't sure if the inmates actually sent the letters or their names were put on the envelopes by someone else.

The Las Vegas FBI is investigating, but a spokesman said yesterday no motive or connection among the governors has been established.

Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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