US drops charges against Peruvian man accused of hoax bomb threats

Eddie Manuel Nunez Santos and the blurred face of one of his children
Image caption,US officials have dropped charges against Eddie Manuel Nunez Santos, pictured here in Peru

By Mike Wendling

BBC News

A web developer from Peru says he became depressed and his business was devastated after US authorities wrongly accused him of bomb threats and child sex offences.

Eddie Manuel Nunez Santos was arrested in Lima in September.

US authorities claimed that he asked underage girls for sexual photos and threatened schools and synagogues.

But last month the US Justice Department dropped the charges.

Mr Nunez Santos has been released from prison, but says that he has received no apology or explanation about why he was held in prison awaiting potential extradition to the US for more than 40 days.

“I don’t know when I’ll be able to go on with my life as before,” he told the BBC via email from Lima.

He says his business and personal life has been ruined by the arrest.

“I’m embarrassed to attend family gatherings. My neighbours, friends and acquaintances have heard about all this,” he said.

In response to an inquiry from the BBC, the US Department of Justice said that the original press release was deleted from its website, but declined to comment further.

The FBI declined to comment on the case.

Mr Nunes Santos runs an IT company that among other things provides an email service to clients including estate agents and online merchants.

He said investigators mistakenly believed emails sent from his service originated with him, rather than with one of his clients who may have been hacked.

According to court documents, the FBI investigation began on 15 September, when the agency started receiving reports of emailed threats to various public buildings in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arizona, and Alaska.

The messages were one part of a wave of bomb threats and hoax police calls that have targeted businesses, libraries and schools all over the country.

Threats were sent to at least three synagogues in the New York area during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year holiday. One claimed that pipe bombs in the building “will blow up in a few hours” and “a lot of innocent people will die”.

Two days later, school districts in Pennsylvania started to receive emailed threats, one of which resulted in the evacuation of more than 1,100 students across 20 different schools. Airports, hospitals, and a shopping mall were also targeted.

As a result of the emails, prosecutors said, police were deployed, schools were closed, flights were delayed and a hospital was locked down.

The threats were allegedly sent as retaliation against a 15-year-old girl who refused to send naked pictures to a gamer she had been chatting with online who went by the name “Lucas”.

FBI investigators traced email and IP addresses and wrongly identified Mr Nunez Santos as “Lucas” after discovering that the emails were sent from one of the client accounts using his company’s email service.

Peruvian police arrested Mr Nunez Santos in front of his wife and children, he said.

“The arrest was not aggressive, but I was very hurt that my nine-year-old son witnessed this,” Mr Nunez Santos said. “He was very scared and nervous.”

While he was in prison, further bomb threats were sent to the same Pennsylvania school districts that had been targeted previously.

He was released on 9 November.

Mr Nunez Santos shared email threads outlining the problems that he encountered with a third-party email provider and a note from the US embassy dropping extradition action.

“I’ve lost customers because of all this,” he said. “Sadly, the silence of the FBI and prosecutors in New York hurts me a lot.”

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