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Michigan man faces terrorism charges over fake bomb call, threat to lawmaker

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LANSING, Mich. – A Michigan man faces terrorism and other felony charges after allegedly calling in a fake bomb threat to the state Capitol and separately threatening to kill a state representative.

But officials have not explained why Michael Chad Varrone was not arrested nearly a month ago, when he allegedly used his cell phone to threaten to kill state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, and her family, identifying himself and even spelling his name in a voicemail message he left with a legislative office.

A Michigan State Police spokeswoman initially said House sergeants – not the MSP – handled the investigation of the Dec. 12 voicemail message that threatened Johnson. But Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for the House speaker, said House sergeants deal only with immediate threats around the Capitol complex, and they referred the phone call to the MSP.

"Yes, they shared information with us about the matter," said MSP spokeswoman Shanon Banner. "However, they did not refer the complaint to us. It was for awareness only."

Johnson told the Free Press Friday she wants a thorough investigation and that whoever is responsible for not pursuing the matter should be fired.

"The guy is white; I am Black," Johnson said. "If I was a white woman I think this would be handled a little differently."

Varrone, 48, of Charlotte, was arrested Thursday and is accused of calling in a fake bomb threat to the state Capitol earlier that morning. Varrone also is accused of threatening to kill Johnson in a Dec. 12 phone call, Attorney General Dana Nessel's office said in a news release.

Michael Varrone
Michael Varrone

Varrone was arraigned Friday before Magistrate Laura Millmore in 54-A District Court in Lansing on two counts of making a false report or threat of terrorism, and one count of making a false report or threat of a bomb.

The terrorism charges – one of which relates to the phone call to Johnson – are 20-year felonies. The fake bomb threat charge is a four-year felony.

The court set Varrone's bond at $50,000 cash.

"Threats to our democracy must not be tolerated, and my office will work tirelessly to ensure the people who work and visit our Capitol can do so safely," Nessel said.

On Dec. 12, Varrone reportedly called the Michigan House of Representatives six times and on at least one occasion threatened the life of Johnson and her family members, according to the complaint.

More: Gov. Whitmer: We should've seen US Capitol riot coming after what happened in Michigan

In a call to the office of state Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, Varrone used his cell phone to leave a voicemail message in which he said: "If there is one more threat by a Democratic person in Michigan that's supposed to represent me, I will personally come down there and take over that goddamn building at the Capitol," according to an affidavit filed with the complaint.

Varrone, who gave his name and spelled it, further stated: "If I'm threatened by another senator or anybody like Cynthia Johnson, I'll personally take care of that (expletive) and their whole (expletive) family, there'll be no Johnsons left in Michigan," according to the affidavit.

Johnson said she was informed of the threat at the time it was made, but is furious about how the investigation was apparently handled.

"Why wasn't this guy arrested?" she asked. "Why was the Capitol more important than the state representative Black woman from Detroit?"

D'Assandro said House sergeants handle only "immediate threats on the premises" and were not in a position to track down and arrest a man who lived in Charlotte, about 18 miles away.

"Not true," said Banner. The House sergeants are "certified police officers with full arrest powers."

Johnson said she believes she was singled out by Varrone because of a Facebook video she posted about other threats she had received, which Johnson said was manipulated on social media to make it appear that she was threatening violence.

Republican state House leaders stripped Johnson of her committee assignments Dec. 9 over the Facebook video.

According to the affidavit, Varrone admitted to making the call that threatened Johnson when he was questioned Thursday by State Police. He said he was "upset with public statements" Johnson had made.

Varrone told police he did not recall making the bomb threat Thursday morning, but he was upset about events Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol and "sometimes does not recall conversations and events when he first awakens in the morning."

Thursday's bomb threat came one day after a riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in which explosive devices were discovered, rioters caused damage inside the Capitol, and one Capitol police officer and one rioter were killed.

"I am grateful this (Michigan) incident did not result in any serious injury or harm," Nessel said. "However, I hope this incident and the disgraceful tragedy that occurred Wednesday at our nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C., can serve as reminders of the security measures we must work to maintain and improve to protect the sanctity of our democracy and the safety of our people."

Thursday's bomb threat briefly closed the Capitol to lawmakers and staff, until the Michigan State Police determined the threat was bogus. The Capitol was already closed to the public.

Varrone has hearings set for Jan. 22 and Jan. 28 before Judge Kristen Simmons.

In October, federal officials charged six men with conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Eight other men face support of terrorism or other state charges in connection with plots against the governor, the Capitol, police and/or other officials.

Johnson said she does not feel safe going into the state Capitol in the present climate, where there are no metal detectors and open carry of firearms is permitted, even in the public galleries overlooking the House and Senate floors.

Follow Paul Ega on Twitter @paulegan4

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Man charged with terrorism over fake bomb call, threat to lawmaker

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