A self-described “activist” from Quebec who pleaded guilty to sending Donald Trump a poison-laced letter at the height of the former president’s ill-fated 2020 re-election effort has been sentenced to nearly 22 years in prison.
Pascale Ferrier, 56, agreed to the 21-year, 10-month sentence as part of a plea agreement back in January, but D.C. district court Judge Dabney Friedrich had yet to finally sign off on the deal.
“I am not a terrorist,” Ferrier told Friedrich during a hearing Thursday in downtown Washington, inside the same courthouse where Trump pleaded not guilty to criminal charges two weeks ago.
“Terrorists widely spread terror and death by targeting innocent people. I saw my actions as an act of activism.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the French-born Ferrier pleaded guilty to a total of nine biological weapons charges, each of which carries a potential maximum sentence of life in prison. Only one of them is linked to the Trump letter. The rest are tied to an indictment in Texas, where Ferrier was accused of sending similar letters to police and prison officials after an altercation there in 2019.
She was arrested at the Canada-U.S. border in September 2020 and charged with sending the president a threatening letter laced with homemade ricin, a poison she brewed at her home in Montreal.
Intercepted two months before the 2020 election, the letter described Trump as an “ugly tyrant clown” and urged him to give up his bid to hold onto the White House.
“The only regret I have is that it didn’t work and I couldn’t stop Trump before he (executed his plan) to try to stay in power,” Ferrier told the court in her thick Parisian French accent.
“It was never my intention to harm innocent people. And in fact, I did not harm anyone.”
In delivering her sentence, however, Friedrich acknowledged the obvious discrepancy between Ferrier’s claims of intending no harm, as well as her benevolence behind bars, and the methods she used to express her brand of activism.
“I’m discouraged that there’s not either a realization or a willingness to look internally at what prompted this very inconsistent, almost aberrant behaviour, for your own future and your own peace of mind,” the judge said.
“It’s almost like two different personalities.”
The U.S. justice system does not look kindly upon such conduct, said assistant U.S. attorney Michael Friedman — a message that resonates anew in D.C. since the Capitol Hill riots of Jan. 6, 2021, unfolded just across the street.
“There is absolutely no place for politically motivated violence in the United States of America, a nation of laws where the people choose our leaders by voting,” Friedman said.
“Political violence deeply offends our cherished democratic history and traditions.”
A sentencing memorandum said Ferrier was an enthusiastic participant in and “valued contributor” to rehabilitation programs, and that she spent a lot of time confined to her cell during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The parties urge this court to accept the agreed-upon sentence, not only because it reflects the appropriate sentence for such cases, but also because such a sentence would be sufficient but not greater than necessary,” it reads.
Ferrier — an “inordinately intelligent” and “extremely accomplished” person with a master’s degree in engineering, her lawyer, Eugene Ohm, noted — completed several Georgetown University courses while behind bars, earning nearly straight As.
Indeed, Friedrich agreed to consider a delay in signing off on the paperwork to ensure Ferrier would be able to attend her graduation ceremony next month.
“You must be the valedictorian,” she joked.
Ferrier has already agreed to be removed from the U.S. after she serves her sentence, forfeiting opportunities to reduce her time behind bars, and could also face charges in Canada of manufacturing a prohibited substance, the sentencing document notes.
The sentence “will aptly reflect Ms. Ferrier’s history and characteristics, most notably, her lack of a criminal record, her age, and her close ties to her family, her acceptance of responsibility and her attempts to improve herself while incarcerated.”
Friedrich also ordered that Ferrier be placed under supervised release once her prison time is complete — a largely academic step, the judge acknowledged, since Ferrier is to be deported back to Canada. Ohm tried in vain to argue otherwise, but Friedrich imposed the condition anyway as an “additional deterrent” to ensure Ferrier doesn’t try to re-enter the U.S.
As part of the agreement, Ferrier pleaded guilty to eight charges related to several similar letters she sent to police and prison officials in Texas.
According to prosecutors, the letter to Trump described the poison as a “special gift” and threatened to “find a better recipe for another poison, or I might use my gun when I’ll be able to come.” The letters were all signed “Free Rebel Spirit.”
The FBI said the letter, intercepted less than two months before the 2020 presidential election, contained a powdery white substance and accused Trump of ruining the U.S., calling on him to “give up” his re-election bid.
Authorities said that when Ferrier was arrested trying to enter the U.S., she was in possession of a loaded handgun, nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, a stun gun, pepper spray, a truncheon and a fake Texas driver’s licence.