New: Michigan Capitol bomb threat suspect got Secret Service visit over 2014 Obama threat

By: - March 18, 2021 3:04 pm

Austin Blair statue in front of the Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Newly released documents from the Michigan State Police show Michael Varrone, who was accused of making a bomb threat on Jan. 7 to the Michigan Capitol, has a lengthy history of contact with law enforcement — including a 2014 visit from the Secret Service for threatening then-President Barack Obama by email. 

The heavily redacted police reports were released under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and reveal a history of threatening behavior and violence. 

That includes an alleged attempt to ram his van into a store owned by former state Rep. Dianne Byrum in Charlotte on the same day he allegedly called a bomb threat into the Capitol building. Varrone, 48, allegedly called a control operator at the Capitol building at 6:40 a.m. and urged evacuation because it was going to explode. The employee immediately reported the bomb threat to MSP. The building was ordered closed and it reopened later that morning.

At 11:08 a.m. on Jan. 7, Varrone was allegedly in Byrum ACE Hardware without a mask, and was confronted by two different women. A female employee escorted him from the business for refusing to wear a mask. The police report alleges he then got in his car and put it in drive, jumping a curb in front of the store and knocking into a snowblower, which then hit the front of the building. 

The hardware store is owned by Jim and Dianne Byrum. Dianne Byrum, chair of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees and a former longtime Democratic state lawmaker, declined to release surveillance video of the incident or allow employees to be interviewed by the Advance. She declined to comment about the situation.

Those incidents took place the day after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in the Jan. 6 insurrection, even as others marched on state capitals around the country, including Lansing, without incident.

Varrone is currently undergoing a court ordered psychiatric evaluation. He was charged on Jan. 8 with three felonies in a Lansing courtroom. 

On top of the false report of a bomb threat, he was charged with two counts of terroristic threats. One is for the Jan. 7 bomb threat, the other for calling in Dec. 12 a threat against state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit). 

Johnson has been the target of threats since last November when she challenged GOP conspiracy claims about election fraud during a high-profile House Oversight Committee hearing featuring Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. She also was the victim of a series of threats and a manipulated video spread through right-wing social media. Johnson declined to comment Thursday, citing the pending criminal case against Varrone.

Varrone allegedly called another lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), and left a threatening voicemail on Dec. 12. That threat was forwarded to the Michigan State Police on Dec. 15. 

As the Advance previously reported, MSP did not begin an investigation into the threat until Varrone’s cell phone was tied to the Jan. 7 bomb threat. An MSP spokesperson said the information was shared as “information only,” by Chief House Sergeant-at-Arms David Dickson to MSP Det. Sgt. William Luebs. 

However, the email notifying Luebs of the threat, Dickson wrote, “At least this guy identifies himself. We have not been sending you so many of this. We are hoping it just goes away.., for most I think they will eventually stop venting. Thanks for your time. This guy might be on radar somewhere.”

And indeed, Varrone was “on radar” since at least 2009. Included in the MSP police report investigation of the bomb threat are a series of heavily redacted police reports from the Charlotte Police Department. The cases against Varrone include allegations of intimidation/stalking, fraud, and obstructing/resisting an officer during an arrest. 

The records also include a 2014 Charlotte Police report in which a detective and the U.S. Secret Service interviewed Varrone in connection with a threatening email against Obama in June of that year. Varrone allegedly wrote, “im coming for you and whomever gets in the way. Put my kids and country at risk. Here is transparency. Im gonna shove a flag up your ass so you might feel like a read patriot. You r the terrorist and coming to send you home. Eye for an eye. C u soon!!! Fromreal american.”

Detective James Beal of the Charlotte Police Department wrote in his report that when he and a Secret Service agent knocked on Varrone’s door he “came to the front door in a highly agitated state, yelling about POTUS and explaining POTUS was a terrorist and ruining our country.” 

Varrone eventually calmed down and invited law enforcement in to discuss the email. Varrone notified them he had a mental health condition, but that condition was redacted from the police report, and Varrone refused to sign a release of his mental health records. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Clay West declined to authorize charges in the case.

On June 7, 2014, Varrone was suspected of stalking and intimidation related to a neighborhood incident. Varrone is alleged to have approached an adult and threatened him. An interview with a witness, whose identity is redacted, Varrone was identified as having “multiple incidents in the [manufactured housing] park with people because of his anger issues and fighting with other residents.” The case was forwarded to the prosecutor’s office with a request for charges of intimidation and the disposition of charges could not be determined. 

In a heavily redacted report from Oct. 23, 2014, Charlotte Police were dispatched to Varrone’s home on a complaint. The original complaint is unclear and all the information related to the allegations is redacted. But officers determined there was probable cause to arrest Varrone, who refused to stand when directed, then tried to run. Officers took him to the ground, while another drew his taser and threatened to deploy it if Varrone didn’t stop resisting. He was then handcuffed and transported to the Eaton County Jail. The disposition of charges could not be determined.

The earliest police incident report in the file is from June 2009 and involves an allegation that Varrone defrauded a woman in Clinton County through his flooring business. That case was investigated by a state trooper from the Lansing post. An MSP spokesperson said the case is closed but it was unknown what the outcome was. 

The Advance is seeking additional records, including arrest video and surveillance video from local police. 

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Todd A. Heywood
Todd A. Heywood

Todd Heywood is an award-winning journalist with over 30 years of experience. He's worked in print, online, radio and television. His reporting has been cited by the U.S. House of Representatives as well as in the United Nations reports on HIV. He's an avid vintage Star Wars collector and lives in Lansing with his three dogs.