HAMMOND — A BP engineer, who ran two failed campaigns as a political outsider in Lake County, was arrested Thursday by the FBI for allegedly sending a threatening letter with a bullet enclosed to a Hammond worker and attempting to mail a pipe bomb Sept. 6 to a Hammond attorney.
Eric Krieg, 45, of Munster, was charged with being in possession of an explosive device and transporting explosive materials, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court Thursday.
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, authorities said.
The pipe bomb never made it to its intended target but instead exploded Sept. 6 at the U.S. post office in East Chicago, injuring one postal worker.
Federal agents executed a search warrant Thursday morning at BP’s Whiting Refinery, but the warrant was not directed at BP, according to a BP spokesman.
Agents seized evidence, including Krieg's car, as part of the search warrant, authorities said during Thursday’s news conference at the U.S. attorney’s office in Hammond.
A threatening letter
Krieg, of Munster, has been an outspoken critic of the Lake County Democratic Party and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. through a political blog under the pen name Buzzcut, Times archives show.
The FBI has also been investigating a related threatening, bulky letter sent Sept. 29 to a separate Hammond worker, confirmed McDermott, who said he personally spoke to the FBI.
The envelope contained a bullet with a message that read, "The next one will be in the back of your head," the complaint stated.
U.S. attorney Thomas Kirsch declined to comment on any possible political motives, but a complaint filed Thursday alleges Krieg targeted at least one individual associated with political blogs and discussion forums frequented by Krieg.
McDermott on Thursday also said he believed Krieg's actions were politically motivated.
The letter was mailed to Krieg's alleged intended target, who in Oct. 2013 directed derogatory comments online toward Krieg about an editorial he had published, according to the affidavit.
McDermott said once the second package was received by a Hammond employee, it was clear someone was targeting people associated with the city of Hammond.
‘No. 1 on my list’
Thursday’s announcement came as a relief to McDermott, who said his city employees have been on heightened alert for more than a month.
"(Krieg) was the first person I thought of," McDermott said after the press conference. "I gave (the FBI) a few other names but he was No. 1 on my list."
Since the bombing in East Chicago, officials and employees with the city had been told to notify police about any packages or suspicious letters they may receive. McDermott said police also have been extra watchful of city employees.
McDermott said he feels safe knowing Krieg is in custody.
“I love the FBI. I love the U.S. attorney. I thank them, seriously. They cared about us. They worked hard for us,” he said.
The postal worker injured in the Sept. 6 blast was pregnant and in her third trimester at the time, according to Patricia Armstrong, US Postal Service inspector in charge.
“Score one for the good guys today,” Armstrong said. “It’s really important that people understand you can trust the mail. The mail is a sacred thing that comes to your home, your place of business. You expect it to be safe. … Today, someone is off the streets who used that mail for harm.”
Krieg sued for defamation, clashed with Hammond mayor
In 2013, Krieg demanded county election officials investigate the mayor's payments to his wife, Marissa McDermott, as the mayor's campaign consultant.
Election officials declined Krieg's request on McDermott's assurances the payments were legal. The mayor claims Krieg's actions were in retaliation against Aaron M. McDermott, the mayor's brother, filing a defamation suit against Krieg.
The suit alleged Krieg made false claims in a Sept. 18, 2013 blog about the mayor's brother being arrested in Munster.
Krieg and Aaron McDermott later resolved the matter out of court on terms that weren't publicly disclosed, according to Times archives.
The complaint says Krieg filed for bankruptcy following the lawsuit and ultimately settled for $60,000.
The pipe bomb was intended for an individual who represented the mayor’s brother, Aaron McDermott, in the defamation lawsuit.
“Obviously it’s horrible. It’s horrible it blew up in the post office. It would have been horrible if it would have gotten to the intended target because he’s a good guy,” McDermott said. “He’s a good person. He has a family, too, and it was sent to his house.”
The intended target for the pipe bomb, identified only as Victim 1 in the affidavit, also told agents he filed support for a LGBT ordinance passed by city of Munster’s LGBT that Krieg “might have disagreed with,” the complaint states.
Krieg’s political leanings, runs for office
Krieg is a licensed professional engineer who works BP Whiting refinery. He has a master's degree in engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology and more than 20 years of industry experience in project and engineering management.
In the 2012 race for Lake County Surveyor, Krieg ran as an alternative to the culture of public corruption in the Lake County Democratic Party. He lost to incumbent surveyor George Van Til, later convicted of public corruption.
In a 2012 questionnaire submitted to The Times, Krieg listed “ethics” as one of his top three goals if he won political office.
“I believe ethics begins with the voters. They are the ones who need to hold their elected officials responsible. Sadly, the voters have not held the current surveyor responsible for his many ethical lapses. We must do so now,” he wrote in 2012.
He ran unsuccessfully for the 4th District Lake County Council seat, losing in the 2010 Republican primary to Dan Dernulc, of Highland, who went on to win the general election that fall.
Dernulc, the Lake County GOP chairman, said Thursday that Krieg hadn't been involved with county Republicans for "quite some time."
McDermott on Thursday described Krieg as an “extremist.”
“He’s really, really weird. He’s really strange. He’s really, like, an evil, uber extremist. And that’s extremism I’m not trying to make a Democrat or Republican statement about this, but extremism is bad. He is an uber, right winger and this doesn’t surprise me a bit,” McDermott said.
Witnesses: He "shuffled" as he walked
Krieg allegedly dropped the package off at the U.S. post office in East Chicago about 11:19 am. and video footage shows a vehicle matching the description of Krieg’s vehicle leaving the post office shortly after, the complaint states.
One witness at the post office that day described Krieg as “peculiar,” as he walked into the building wearing a white medical mask, hooded sweatshirt, and black jeans carrying a small cardboard box wrapped in tape, the complaint states. He “shuffled” as he walked, the complaint stated.
FBI showed at least one witness a photo lineup that included Krieg on Sept. 8, according to the complaint, meaning agents considered him a possible suspect a mere two days after the Sept. 6 explosion.
Investigators conducted surveillance on Krieg outside of his residence Sept. 8 and as he drove to a recycling center in Munster.
Krieg allegedly dropped off a box that contained several computer items, including hard drives, and a shipping label affixed to it indicated it was destined for another known occupant of Krieg's residence, the complaint stated.
According to the complaint, Krieg initially denied involvement Oct. 12 but then later admitted to mailing the explosive device Sept. 6, the complaint states.
He also admitted to manufacturing the destructive device, using M-80 type powder, and mailing a threatening letter to the other victim, the complaint states.
The complaint states Krieg volunteered his time from 2010 to 2014 coaching primary and middle school students in FIRST Lego Robotics competition. That, along with his engineering degree, “potentially (gave) him the educational background and relevant knowledge to construct an improvised explosive device,” the complaint states.
A neighborhood resident, Kelly Newman, 46, of Munster, said law enforcement, some in fatigues and arriving in several white vans, blocked off an area stretching for about 10 residential lots while raiding Krieg's residence Thursday morning.
No one could get to their houses, she said.
"We were shocked. They have kids. We feel horrible."
Krieg's next court appearance is slated for 11 a.m. Tuesday before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John E. Martin. According to Kirsch more charges against Krieg are possible.
Marc Chase contributed to this report.