An Iowa man was sentenced to 37 years in the clink for mailing bombs and threatening letters to mutual fund managers at Janus Capital Group and American Century Cos. in a bid to influence stock prices.

John Tomkins, 48, of Dubuque, who was convicted last May of 12 counts including possession of an unregistered explosive device, was sentenced today in federal court in Chicago by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow. Tomkins acted as his own lawyer and testified at his two-week trial, admitting that he mailed the letters while disputing the prosecutors’ claim that he sent viable pipe bombs to the mutual-fund companies.

Using the words “horrific” and “terrifying” to describe Tomkins’s crimes, Dow today rejected the argument that the devices were intended only to frighten, saying the elements of a usable device were present and, with them, the risk of detonation.

The U.S. said Tomkins was seeking to influence share prices of 3Com Corp., a computer-networking equipment maker now part of Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), and of Navarre Corp. (NAVR), a software distributor, from May 2005 to January 2007.

When threatening letters to securities firms failed to spur them to drive the two companies’ shares to $6.66, Tomkins sent packages containing pipe bombs to Denver-based Janus and American Century offices in Kansas City, Missouri, with threatening notes in January 2007.

Shotgun Pellets

Tomkins didn’t complete the circuitry in the battery-powered devices, which contained gunpowder and shotgun pellets, before mailing one each to American Century and Janus.

Francis Lipuma, a Chicago lawyer who acted as standby defense counsel during the trial, took over the case for sentencing. After today’s hearing, he told reporters that his client will appeal.

“Certainly, he had all the intent of scaring people,” Lipuma said. Causing physical harm or damage “was never in his mental state,” according to the lawyer.

Tomkins will get credit against his sentence for the six years he has been in custody since his arrest, Lipuma said.

Prosecutors told the jury that investigators collected evidence from Tomkins’s car, home, computer and a storage locker tying him to the letters, as well as to the devices mailed to Janus and American Century. Investigators also found that Tomkins held stock in both 3Com and Navarre during the letter-writing campaign, Brady said.

Some of the letters Tomkins sent were signed “the Bishop,” a moniker he told jurors was derived from a science-fiction novel by Harry Harrison. They also contained a phrase inspired by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: “It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

The case is U.S. v. Tomkins, 07-cr-227, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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