MIAMI (CBS4) – A woman charged with making threats that caused 300 South Florida schools to be locked down and a congressman-elect’s top aide to step down has been arrested and is expected in court in California on Wednesday, federal authorities said.
Ellisa Martinez, 48, of New Port Richey, Fla., surrendered to FBI agents near Los Angeles, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami said. She is accused of sending an e-mail on Nov. 10 to WFTL 850 AM conservative talk show host Joyce Kaufman, who was tapped to be U.S. Rep.-elect Allen West’s chief of staff.
According to the federal complaint filed Nov. 12th, the writer of the e-mail found by federal authorities claimed to be “planning something big around a government building here in Broward County, maybe a post office, maybe even a school, I’m going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd amendment is all about.”
The e-mail said the writer liked that Kaufman had encouraged people to “exercise our second amendment rights.” Martinez called the Pompano Beach station later that morning and claimed that her husband, Bill Johnson, was going to go to a school in Pembroke Pines and start shooting, according to federal authorities who said they traced the call.
Authorities responded by placing all 300 Broward County schools with about 275,000 students on lockdown for several hours. The South Florida district is the nation’s sixth-largest.
Kaufman, 56, has been on South Florida radio for nearly 20 years. She “considers herself fiercely independent and is not ashamed of putting America first, like real liberals used to and our weak-kneed politicians and some so-called conservatives claim to,” according to the radio station’s biography. She also carries a .357 magnum.
Kaufman stepped down as West’s chief of staff a day after the lockdown, saying she wanted to avoid any repercussions against him.
Kaufman believes the threat was sent to her in response to a comment she made during a political rally over the summer for Congressman-elect Allen West. The comment, which was replayed on MSNBC in the days preceding the threats, quoted Kaufman as saying, “if ballots don’t work, bullets will.”
Kaufman believes many people blamed her for the county-wide school lockdown because of the way the comment was portrayed in the media. She said Tuesday’s arrest is a first step towards vindication.
“My only desire is that the truth be told,” Kaufman told CBS4’s Carey Codd in an exclusive interview. “For days my name was dragged through the mud. People accused me of inciting violence in Broward County Schools. These were kids who were affected. They were locked down for 5 hours. Parents were left standing outside and they were pretty angry with me and I think what we’re about to find out is this had not much to do with me.”
But as for why the threats were made, a senior law enforcement official told CBS4 I-Team investigator Jim DeFede that they aren’t sure of her motivations for making the threats.
Kaufman said she was surprised to learn the suspect made it to California while under investigation in Florida.
“I don’t believe someone acts alone and then manages to get from the west coast of Florida all the way to LA while she’s under — there’s an arrest warrant issued for her,” she said. “How does that happen?”
Kaufman also responded to critics questioning her comments during the political rally. She said the comment was taken out of context and is reference to a remark made by Thomas Jefferson.
“I stand by the fact that I have made plenty of speeches and never has any violence been the result of any of my speeches,” she said. “Sometimes I get noisy. My intentions are honorable I have never desired anything but the absolute normalcy of the American political system.”
In the e-mail that federal authorities said they tracked to Martinez’s computer, the writer also expressed a need to “take our country back from the illegal aliens, Jews, Muslims, and illuminati who are running the show.”
In the final section of the e-mail, the writer referenced former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by saying, “what does Sarah say, don’t retreat, reload! Let’s make headlines girl!”
Martinez was taken into custody at her attorney’s office in Van Nuys, Calif., late Tuesday, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller in Los Angeles. Martinez had been staying in Van Nuys for a short while, Eimiller said, and her attorney and FBI agents negotiated her surrender.
She is charged with interstate communication of a threat to injure another. She’s being held in a federal detention center in Los Angeles.
When agents interviewed Martinez at her New Port Richey home the same day as the lockdown, she denied making any threat. She told agents she had temporarily lost her phone at a local cafe that morning and that her home computer was unsecured.
When agents went to get a search warrant for Martinez’s phone and computer, she was able to slip out and not return, according to the complaint. No evidence of a “Bill Johnson” was found.
Miami FBI spokesman Michael Leverock said agents have no motive for why Martinez made the threats.
Kaufman’s selection to lead West’s staff was a surprise, since she’s never worked in government. But she was one of his early backers and spoke often at his rallies. West, like many tea party candidates, pledged to work outside the Washington and political establishment.
When Kaufman told listeners she was stepping down as West’s aide, she said she had received death threats since the lockdown and claimed liberal media were bent on bringing down conservative politicians and West.
West said he was glad Martinez was arrested.
“I hope she’s charged to the fullest extent of the law,” West said. “And if there are any organizations connected to her, they should be pursued, as well.”
No political or other affiliations were listed in the criminal complaint.
CBS4’s Carey Codd and Jim DeFede contributed to this report.
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)