Florida man pleads guilty to anthrax hoax

The perpetrator of an anthrax hoax at a Sebring, Florida, hospital was sentenced to three years in a state penitentiary on July 22 after securing a plea agreement.

Jerron Mario Moffit, 21, was initially charged with 76 counts of possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction but pleaded no contest to just one charge, Highlands Today reports. The plea deal was arranged because of serious questions concerning the available evidence and about the admissibility of statements Mr. Moffit made during questioning, according to Assistant State Attorney Derek Christian.

Christian further explained to Highlands Today that Moffitt was questioned by members of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI after being read his Miranda rights but without being arrested. Moffitt was, at the time, considered simply a suspect in the case. Moffitt eventually told investigators that he wanted to go home, but the FBI did not stop their questioning, Highlands Today reports.

"It would have been very close as to whether or not there was a violation of his constitutional rights," Christian told Highlands Today. "It was better to go ahead and accept the plea than risk having the entire case be thrown out due to an issue with the admissibility of Mr. Moffitt's statements."

Moffitt, when asked if he wanted to enter the plea agreement, responded, “Oh, yes, sir.” Judge Peter Estrada suggested that Moffitt should thank his attorney for getting him the deal.

Moffitt, who has been in jail since his April 2009 arrest, will get credit for time served, but will have to pay several thousand dollars in compensation. The HCSO spent almost $25,000 in labor costs alone in dealing with the situation, but there is more at stake for the area, Highlands Today reports.

"For what it's worth, Mr. Moffitt, although it's not part of the agreement, I think you owe an apology to this community for what you made them go through on that particular day that these allegations arose," Estrada said.

The drama began when, on April 2, 2010, a nurse at Florida Hospital Heartland found an envelope under her windshield wiper with a note attached stating it contained anthrax. Inside the envelope was a white powdery substance. The hospital was put on lockdown immediately and stayed that way for the next 12 hours. Similar notes were found throughout the day across the region. They all eventually tested negative for the presence of anthrax.