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Pipe bomber ‘The Bishop’ gets 37 years in prison

John Tomkins

John Tomkins

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Updated: June 23, 2013 6:22AM

A 48-year-old machinist from Dubuque, Iowa, who lead a secret life as a mail bomb extortionist called “The Bishop” was sentenced to 37 years in prison Tuesday.

Federal Judge Robert M. Dow said John Tomkins’ attempt to manipulate stock prices by mailing pipe bombs through the Rolling Meadows post office to businesses in Kansas City and Denver in 2007 was “horrific” and “terrifying.”

Though the bombs were designed not to explode — and nobody was hurt — Dow said Tomkins’ took risks that “nobody in their right mind” would take with the public’s safety, adding that Tomkins’ threats sent a “chilling message” that deserved a lengthy sentence.

But the judge said he was “mystified” how such a seemingly normal man turned to violent crime in middle age.

While the nickname Tomkins used on his extortion letters came from the pages of a science-fiction novel, his everyday life was as humdrum as it gets.

With his bushy moustache, pudgy figure and pallid complexion, the father of three looked every bit the above average recreational bowler and trusted union official that the judge said evidence proved him to be as he sat in court in an orange jail jumpsuit and leg shackles Tuesday.

“This is the life that most people live,” the judge told him. “Dubuque’s not so different from my own home town ... Mr. Tomkins could have been anyone I knew.”

“Horrific is the single best word I have seen used to describe the defendant’s crimes — ‘terrifying’ is another,” the judge said.

The 37-year sentence he imposed means Tomkins, now 48, will likely be in his mid-70s by the time he is released, once he is given credit for the time he’s already spent behind bars, assuming he behaves in prison.

Last month Tomkins gave a lengthy and emotional speech to the court, saying he was “incredibly sorry” and attributing his crimes to a mental breakdown brought on by the suicide of his nephew and the murder of a friend. He said he was motivated by anger at inside dealing on Wall Street, not greed, and compared his case favorably with that of terrorist wannabe Sami Hassoun, the Wrigleyville bomb plotter who agreed a plea deal with prosecutors that caps his maximum sentence at 30 years.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 42 to 45 years. Only “dumb luck” prevented a wire Tomkins left unattached from connecting and detonating the bombs, they say.

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