Letter bomb explodes at suburban Detroit post office

April 17, 1990
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ROYAL OAK, Mich. -- A mail bomb addressed 'To The Tax Thieves' went off outside a suburban Detroit post office as last-minute tax returns were being mailed, injuring a postal worker, officials said.

The explosive device was in a heavy brown padded envelope that also contained a tea bag in apparent reference to the Boston Tea Party, the historic tax protest of 1773, investigators said.

'From the writing on the envelope, there was an indication it was some kind of tax protest,' said U.S. Postal Inspector Fred Van de Putte.

Several groups of tax protesters were at the post office at the time, but they denied responsiblity for the device and decried such actions.

Police said the postal worker, Tom Berlucchi, 29, noticed the package shortly before 8:30 p.m. smoldering in a basket of mail at a curbside drop site set up by the U.S. Postal Service as a convenience to 11th-hour tax filers.

The deadline for federal and state tax returns was midnight Monday.

Van de Putte said Berlucchi tried to put out the flames with his fingers. Another employee shouted for Belucchi to toss the envelope in a nearby puddle of water.

Berlucchi picked up the envelope, threw it into the puddle and tried to stamp out the flames with his foot.

'Berlucchi said he heard a small pop and the envelope burst into flames and sparks,' Van de Putte said.

Berlucci, who suffered burns to both hands, was treated at William Beaumont Hospital and released. He suffered no disabling injuries, said police Lt. Ray Taylor.

Postal inspectors, the FBI and agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms helped city police cordon off the area.

Some tax returns sutained 'minor damage' in the incident but officials declined to be specific. Van de Putte said all the returns will be forwarded to the IRS.

Van de Putte said the contents of the envelope included a pyrotechnic device like a Roman candle. Royal Oak Fire Capt. Ron Gammon said the envelope also contained an unidentified red fluid and a fuse.

'I guess the fluid was supposed to be blood. It flew all over the place,' Gammon said.

Postal workers praised Berlucchi, a maintenance employee for 10 years, for his quick action.

'If he hadn't pulled it out, a lot of mail would have burned up and possibly someone would have been injured if the letter would've made it onto the truck,' said Judith Baker, manager of plant and equipment engineering at the Royal Oak branch.

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