A man already jailed on charges of using a fake bomb in a bank robbery attempt has been accused of using bomb threats in an attempt to extort as much as $50 million from the Publix supermarket chain, according to federal court documents unsealed Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Walleisa said in the documents that Brian Henderson, 49, claimed in emails to Publix officials last year that he would plant bombs at its supermarkets and detonate them unless his demands were met. Henderson is also being charged in New Jersey with threatening to poison products made by a business there unless he was paid off.
The documents show one small explosive device was detonated outside a Publix in Dania Beach but it did no damage — in fact, it wasn't discovered until months later — and another device may have been placed at Publix Super Markets headquarters in Lakeland that did not explode. In one of the emails attributed to Henderson, he tells Publix officials that "you dodged a bullet down in Broward the other day," referring to the county that includes Dania Beach.
"I don't know if my triggering mechanism failed or someone found it before the timer went off but it doesn't matter. I'll be sure to do a better job next time," the email says.
Henderson has pleaded not guilty in the bank robbery case, in which he's accused of trying to rob a Dania Beach Chase Bank branch in December with what he claimed was a bomb strapped to his body. He was eventually shot and wounded by police, who determined the bomb was fake.
He has a hearing Friday on a new 11-count indictment in Fort Lauderdale federal court on charges related to the Publix bombing scheme that include extortion, threatening to destroy property with explosives and a firearms count that carries a mandatory 30-year minimum prison sentence. His court-appointed attorney in the bank robbery case did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the new charges.
According to the documents, Henderson first contacted Publix officials via email on Jan. 20, 2013, claiming that "I am the Publix baumer," an intentional misspelling designed to throw off federal investigators. The email demands $5 million, going up to $50 million if "the feds" are contacted and promising that bombs would be detonated at Publix stores until payment is made.
"After the 3rd or 4th baum you will be losing so much money you will have to pay me. I know enough about investigative techniques to believe I can get away with this for at least a year," Henderson allegedly wrote. "You have been warned so all deaths will be on your hands."
Authorities say Publix never paid any money and immediately reported the threat to the FBI, which assisted in answering Henderson's emails. As time went on, Henderson begins to show frustration at not getting his money, according to the documents.
"I went into this thing convinced that you would not take me seriously and you would need to learn the hard way. Your behavior has not changed my mind about that," a February 2013 email says.
A spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets Inc. did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
In the New Jersey case, prosecutors say Henderson contacted an unnamed company in July through its customer care message center and threatened to place poisoned versions of its products on store shelves unless he was paid an undetermined amount of money.
"I am the angel of death," that message begins.
Authorities determined through email records that someone sent that New Jersey message from a McDonald's restaurant in Dania Beach. They also found security video footage showing Henderson riding a blue scooter, which he admitted owning after his arrest in the December bank robbery attempt.