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Seattle man arrested in connection with Amtrak bomb threat

(The following story by Ed Treleven appeared on the Juneau County Star-Times website on July 28.)

SEATTLE -- A Seattle man who was aboard a cross-country Amtrak passenger train was charged Friday with telephoning bomb threats against the train as it passed through Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Michael David Conwill, 35, who was released from a Nevada prison in March, was tracked down by the FBI through a passenger manifest and phone records and arrested Thursday in Chicago.

On Friday, Conwill waived objections to being transferred to Madison to face charges, said Myra Longfield, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Madison. He will make a court appearance sometime next week.

If convicted, Conwill faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In an affidavit supporting the charge, Special Agent Peter Freitag wrote that the telephone number used to make threats received by the Juneau and Sauk County sheriff's dispatchers was traced to Conwill through phone records. He was arrested Thursday at Chicago's Union Station.

The affidavit does not say why Conwill made the threats. Columbia County Sheriff's Lt. Wayne Smith said Friday that Conwill has given some indication about his motive, but investigators need to speak with him again about some aspects of his explanation before publicly commenting on it.

Conwill allegedly told Freitag that he made the first call after the train made a stop in Wisconsin Dells.

Before making the calls, he allegedly told Freitag, he called AT&T Wireless, his cell phone provider, and asked that the name on his cell phone account be changed to the name of his previous employer so that no one would be able to trace the threats back to him, according to Freitag's affidavit.

The Juneau County Sheriff's Department received the first call at 12:19 p.m., in which the caller said: "There is a bomb on the train going to Chicago," He repeated the statement, then hung up. In a second call to Juneau County four minutes later, the caller said, "Wisconsin Dells - train - bomb."

At 12:31 p.m., Sauk County received a call in which a man said, "bomb on train at Wisconsin Dells." In another call, two minutes later, the caller said "letting train go...I don't know why." A final call, at 1:42 p.m., told the dispatcher, "better stop that train."

The train was stopped by police in Portage and the passengers were taken to a school while it was searched. No bomb was found.

Passengers were interviewed at the school, including Conwill.

Conwill was listed on the manifest as having left Seattle on July 4, headed to Chicago. During an interview with FBI agents in Chicago, Conwill said he was headed to Kentucky.

Conwill has been to federal prison before. In 1993 he was charged in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., with false representation of a Social Security number and was sentenced to six months in prison with two years of supervised release. Conwill's release was revoked in 1995, and he was sentenced to 21 months in prison, which he began serving after finishing an ongoing Nevada prison sentence. Records on that Nevada conviction were not immediately available.

Conwill returned to prison in Nevada in 2001 after he was sentenced to 1-1/2 to four years for defrauding an innkeeper. A Nevada Department of Corrections spokeswoman said he was released March 10. Prison records indicate he had 10 known aliases.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

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