Houston woman accused of mailing explosive devices to governor, former president

Julia Poff pleaded not guilty to charges during detention hearing

HOUSTON – A Houston-area woman has been indicted on federal charges of mailing explosive devices to Gov. Greg Abbott, former President Barack Obama and former Social Security Administration Commissioner Carolyn Colvin.

Court documents read the devices were mailed in October 2016, but the indictment was not returned until November of this year.

Julia Poff, 46, is named in a six-count indictment accusing her of mailing "injurious articles," "transportation of explosives with intent to kill and injure," "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fraud" and "false declaration in bankruptcy."

File: Julia Poff court documents

VIEW: Julia Poff court documents

During a Nov. 16 detention hearing, Poff pleaded not guilty to the charges. Through a public records request, Channel 2 Investigates obtained a copy of an audio recording of that hearing.

During the hearing, a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force based out of Bryan, Texas, testified to many of the circumstances regarding the yearlong investigation.

The investigator described an 8x7x2-inch package was mailed to the governor's mansion. The investigator testified there was a smaller box inside the larger box containing smokeless powder typically used for the reloading of ammunition, pyrotechnic powder used in fireworks and a hobby fuse. The investigator also testified there was a small plastic cap filled with a type of "lead shot" found in shotgun shells used for hunting.

LISTEN: Description of device Julia Poff sent to Gov. Greg Abbott

The investigator testified the device sent to Abbott is called a victim actuated improvised explosive device.

"It means it's booby-trapped. It means that the victim that opens the package has to take certain action for it to detonate," he said during questioning by a federal prosecutor.

"Who was it addressed to?" a prosecutor asked.

"It was addressed to Governor Abbott," the investigator answered.

"And tell the court who opened the package," the prosecutor said.

"Governor Abbott opened the package," the investigator said.

The investigator testified the device did not detonate and then explained what could happen when one of these devices is detonated.

"A very large flash that could induce severe burns and lots of severe injury and possibly death," he said.

The investigator testified the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives examined the materials and U.S. Postal Service inspectors examined an obliterated shipping label found on the smaller box.

The investigator said postal inspectors were able to determine the label bared Poff's name the address of a P.O. box owned by Poff.

More testimony was given as to a possible motive for sending the device to Abbott. The investigator testified Poff seemed upset with the way the state's child support division handled her case dating back to the time Abbott was Texas attorney general.

"She was upset that child support and/or the arrest of her ex-husband wasn't being conducted the way she thought it should be," he said.

LISTEN: Why Julia Poff decided to send packages to her targets

The investigator testified the Social Security Administration received a package after Poff was denied a third time for benefits. He also stated what he believed was the reason another package was mailed to Obama.

"Through interviews with other witnesses, she did not like him," he said.

The packages sent to SSA and Obama were both caught by security screeners. He testified none of the three packages detonated.

The investigator then explained how a particular brand of cigarettes, a USB cable box, debit card purchases and even cat hair helped lead them to Poff.

LISTEN: How a cat hair helped catch Julia Poff

More testimony from the investigator revealed the packages were sent from a mail drop box in Brookshire, just outside of Houston. He testified Poff was living in the small town at the time the packages were mailed. The investigator also said searches of Poff's home lead to the discovery of latex gloves, fireworks and reloading equipment. The investigator said Poff worked at a fireworks stand for several years, among other jobs.

The investigator also testified Poff was trying to learn the identity of witnesses called to the grand jury.

"We learned that afterward she was trying to identify witnesses in the grand jury and determine what questions had been asked," he said.

On a Facebook page believed to belong to Poff, there are at least two postings related to the investigation. One post asked for support as her hearing date neared. Another post titled, "My Story," reads that she believes she is being framed.

The investigator testified Poff posted another message to a Facebook group.

"Julia posted on the group, 'If the FBI tries to contact anyone, don't talk to them and let me know you've been contacted," he said.

A judge ordered Poff to remain in custody until her trial, which is scheduled for January.

Officials with the governor's office declined to comment, citing the ongoing case. An official with the Texas Department of Public Safety responded via email to KPRC's questions about protocols for the handling of packages sent to the governor's mansion.

"We don't discuss security protocols," DPS press secretary Tom Vinger wrote.

Poff's attorney declined to comment, as did a member of her family when contacted by KPRC.