UPDATE, 10/4/22, 10:16PM ET: This story has been updated to specify that Rachael Rollins is the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
A lab manager at Northeastern University who claimed he was injured by an explosive device that was sent to him last month with a threatening note has been arrested on charges that he fabricated the entire thing, according to a newly unsealed federal complaint.
Jason Duhaime, 45, was taken into custody in Texas on Tuesday by the FBI and is charged with conveying false information related to an explosive device, and making materially false and fictitious statements to the federal government. Duhaime, the now-former new technology manager and director of Northeastern’s Immersive Media Lab, formally lives in Texas but sleeps in his office or the lab while in Massachusetts, according to the complaint.
Duhaime told investigators that the explosive, which he claimed came in on Sept. 12, was inside a hard-shell Pelican case, and that a “violent” letter was inside, the complaint against him states. He and a student brought it up to the lab from the mail area the next day, along with a second, identical case, it says.
“I popped it—the latches—and then I started to open it up,” Duhaime said during an interview with a member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism task Force, according to the complaint. “And then I don’t know how much it was open, but all this freakin’ air, pressure, shit came flying out, like, and these little things—I felt them. I didn’t necessarily see them ‘cause it was dark, but they were, they hit me.”
The rambling one-page note railed against virtual reality technology and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Meta, formerly Facebook. It had been addressed to the lab manager at Northeastern, and reportedly threatened to damage the facility if the university didn’t stop its VR research.
“We know you are working with Mr. Mark Zuckerberg and the US government!!!!!” the letter read. “ ... We are sick and tired of this craziness you are building and using us as human test subjects!!! ... We know you are also working on a secret flying project to scan buildings across the world so Mark can take over google maps. We know you have lots of professors and students entering the lab and placing headsets on to have secret meetings with Mark.”
At the time, Duhaime’s sister Angel told The Daily Beast that her brother had not been seriously hurt.
“He’s OK, considering,” she said, refusing to elaborate.
Duhaime insisted to agents, more than once, that he was telling the truth. But his story didn’t add up, the complaint says.
Duhaime had been wearing a long-sleeved shirt when the case supposedly exploded, and he showed investigators a series of marks on his arms that he insisted had come from “sharp” projectiles expelled by the device, the complaint says.
However, “the shirt sustained no apparent damage,” FBI special agent Steven Kimball wrote in the complaint. “Had ‘sharp’ objects been expelled... like Duhaime claimed, I believe his shirt would have sustained at least some damage.”
Further, the “inside and outside of the case did not bear any marks, dents, cracks, holes, or other signs that it had been exposed to a forceful or explosive discharge of any type or magnitude,” Kimball continued. “Likewise, aside from several fold marks, the Letter was pristine. It bore no tears, holes, burn marks, or any other indication that it had been near any sort of forceful or explosive discharge.”
Still, when the FBI interviewed Duhaime in the hospital after the incident, “Duhaime said several times that he was being honest, at one point towards the end of the interview saying, ‘I’m telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God,’” the complaint states.
The smoking gun? The feds say they found a “word-for-word, electronic copy” of the letter Duhaime said he received—on Duhaime’s laptop. It had been composed and printed out just a few hours before it arrived at his office, according to the complaint.
“An electronic copy of the Letter was autosaved to the Computer, likely without Duhaime’s knowledge,” it continues. “I believe Duhaime intentionally did not save the file to avoid leaving any record of the Letter. The metadata associated with the file indicates that it was created and printed just hours before Duhaime called 911.”
Agents had already become suspicious after the student “specifically recalled Duhaime commenting about the content of the letter without ever having looked at it in [their] presence, indicating to [the student] that Duhaime must have previously reviewed all or part of the Letter.”
Following the incident, many speculated about the possible rise of a so-called Unabomber 2.0. Ted Kaczynski, who dubbed himself the Unabomber, sent explosive packages to academics and others whose views he disliked, killing three and injuring more than 20 over two decades. Kaczynski is serving eight consecutive life terms in federal prison.
At a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins noted the large police response to Duhaime’s alleged hoax report, and pointed out that a “large portion” of the Northeast campus was evacuated.
“This alleged conduct is disturbing, to say the least. Our city, more than most, knows all too well that a report or threat of an explosion is a very serious matter,” Rollins said, referring to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people, “and necessitates an immediate and significant law enforcement response.”
Duhaime is no longer employed at Northeastern, FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta said. Duhaime is scheduled to appear before a judge in San Antonio later this afternoon. His lawyer, Rachel Stroup, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
If convicted, Duhaime faces up to five years imprisonment on each charge.