HOUSTON -- One evening two winters ago, a man in Staten Island, N.Y., absent-mindedly flipped through his mail. Inside one envelope was a stack of fake documents, including UN and Defense Department identification cards and a note: "We would hate to have this fall into the wrong hands."
It had. The package, intended for a member of a self-styled militia in New Jersey, had been delivered to the wrong address.
From that lucky break, federal officials believe they may have uncovered one of the most audacious domestic terrorism plots since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Starting with a single piece of mail, investigators discovered an enormous cache of weapons in the east Texas town of Noonday, including the makings of a sophisticated sodium cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands.
Three people -- William Krar, a small-time arms dealer with connections to white supremacists; Krar's common-law wife, Judith L. Bruey; and Edward S. Feltus, who was to have received the forged documents -- pleaded guilty in the case in November. Held in Tyler, Texas, they are scheduled to appear before a federal judge for sentencing next month.
But this may be only the beginning: Some government investigators believe other conspirators may be on the loose. They readily acknowledge that they have no idea what the stash of weapons was for, though they have clues of a "covert operation or plan," an FBI affidavit says.
"What was Krar going to do with this stuff? That's what we want to know -- and we don't know," said Brit Featherston, an assistant US attorney and the federal government's antiterrorism coordinator in the eastern district of Texas. "The bottom line is that it only had one purpose, and that was to kill people. And it's very troubling that we have yet to figure it out."
Krar, 62, who lived in Noonday, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, pleaded guilty to possession of a chemical weapon and faces a possible sentence of life in prison, Featherston said. No sentencing date has been set.
Bruey, 54, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess illegal weapons and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, Featherston said.
Feltus, 56, of New Jersey, has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the transportation of false identification documents and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, Featherston said.
According to the FBI affidavit, Feltus has told investigators he is a member of a group called the New Jersey Militia, which, according to its website, believes the federal government has grown too powerful and says it is "ready, as a last resort, to come to our nation's defense against all enemies, foreign or domestic."
It is unclear whether Krar or Bruey had any involvement with the organization. Neither representatives of the New Jersey Militia nor attorneys representing Feltus and Bruey could be reached.
Tonda L. Curry, a Tyler defense attorney, represents Krar, who appears to have made much of his living, investigators say, by manufacturing trigger parts for .223-caliber Bushmaster rifles.
Krar, Curry acknowledged, broke the law by possessing weapons he was not licensed to own.
He has not cooperated with investigators, and Curry would not reveal any details of her conversations with Krar regarding motives for possessing the weapons. She said she has "never seen anything that indicates there was any kind of terrorism plot or any intent to use these things against the American people or the government in any way."
"He was not the type who kept these things at ready access. They were miles from his home in a storage facility," Curry said.
The case began to unfold in January 2002, when the package was mistakenly delivered to Staten Island. Investigators traced it to a mailing and business center near Tyler, then to Krar and Bruey, who lived together in Noonday.
With Bruey's permission, they searched a nearby storage facility the couple had rented. The firepower inside shocked law enforcement officers.
Investigators found nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs, and briefcases that could be detonated by remote control. Most distressing, they said, was the discovery of 800 grams of almost pure sodium cyanide, material that can be acquired legally only for specific agricultural or military projects.
The sodium cyanide was found inside an ammunition canister, next to hydrochloric, nitric, and acetic acids and formulas for making bombs. If acid were mixed with the sodium cyanide, an analysis showed it would create a bomb powerful enough to kill everyone inside a 30,000-square-foot facility, investigators said.
The affidavit included documents recovered from a rental car Krar was driving in Tennessee when he was pulled over by a state trooper in January 2003 for a minor traffic violation. The documents were titled "trip" and "procedure," and appeared to list rendezvous points in cities across the nation. The clues, wrote FBI Special Agent Bart B. LaRocca in the affidavit, suggested an "involved criminal scheme which could potentially include plans for future civil unrest and/or violent civil disorder against the United States government."