Federal investigators on the trail of a mail bomb that hurt a Visalia man arrested a suspect in Oklahoma on Thursday -- the victim's uncle.
Vernon Dale Mustin, 51, entered a not-guilty plea before a federal magistrate judge in Muskogee, Okla., on charges in what authorities say is the nation's first injury-causing mail-bomb case in at least five years.
His nephew Aaron Mustin, 31, of Clovis, opened a package that contained five pipe bombs inside a plastic tackle box on Sept. 8. He suffered flash burns and cuts to his right arm, left hand and face when one of the pipe bombs exploded as he reached into the tackle box, according to postal inspectors in an affidavit.
Vernon Mustin's brother is Danny Mustin, 58, of Visalia, who co-owns Cal-Air Cooling and Heating with his son Aaron.
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Renee Focht, a postal inspector and spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said investigators did not know why Vernon Mustin would have mailed the bomb.
But Rob Reimer of Exeter, a friend of the Mustin family, said the two brothers were not on good terms. Danny Mustin and his brother "parted company" about four years ago, Reimer said.
"Danny tried to help set him up in business three or four years ago. It didn't work out," Reimer said. Still, "it's surprising" that Vernon Mustin was arrested, he said.
Mustin will be brought to California for trial, Focht said.
He has been charged with one count of mailing injurious articles and one count of possessing and using a destructive device. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison on the first count, and a mandatory minimum of 30 years on the second count. Actual sentences are determined by the court using federal sentencing guidelines.
The package was sent from Oklahoma to Roseville, where the outer wrapping was removed and the package was remailed to the business in Visalia.
In an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, postal inspector Eula Toca said investigators traced the postage meter used on the package to a contract postal station in Roseville. Using surveillance tapes, investigators found that someone from "Snail Mail Remail Service" had dropped off the package at the contract station. Focht said investigators used the remailing service's Web site to trace the package to Oklahoma.
The PVC pipe bombs contained what appeared to be smokeless black powder and .22-caliber bullets, inspectors said in the affidavit. The package was addressed to Aaron's Air and Heating -- an old name no longer used by the business -- and to Dan Mustin.
Mail bombs are relatively rare, Focht said. In the past five years, there have been 13 incidents nationwide involving mail bombs, but only one -- the Visalia case -- resulted in injury.