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Parking spot argument leads to years of terror, stalking for Boise family

Frank Abbott Sweeney, 76, was previously convicted of crimes including fraud, robbery and shooting at a police officer with a machine gun.
Credit: AP
File image of the James A. McClure Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Boise, Idaho.

BOISE, Idaho — A 76-year-old Garden City man is headed to prison for terrorizing two Ada County families over the course of several years, mailing them hateful postcards and even hiring a private investigator to dig up intimate details about their lives.

Frank Abbott Sweeney - a career criminal with previous convictions including fraud, robbery and shooting at a police officer with a machine gun - was sentenced Monday to four years and three months in federal prison. Sweeney pleaded guilty to six felony counts of stalking in the case earlier this year. 

According to court documents, the first family's ordeal began after a chance encounter with Sweeney in the parking lot of the Garden City post office in December 2015. One of the victims, a woman identified only as E.R., recounted to investigators how she had confronted Sweeney, who she did not know, about parking in a handicapped stall without a handicap placard on his pickup.

The man became angry, she said, and the two of them exchanged words before he drove away.  

Within weeks, the postcards started. 

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Investigators say Sweeney mailed postcards to the Boise home where E.R. lived with her husband and adult daughter, and to her other daughter's address in Portland.

All of the cards were prepaid postcards with a flower or tree in the upper-right corner, and appeared to have been written with a manual typewriter. Many of the cards are signed "Carson Wells," the name of the bounty hunter character from the movie No Country for Old Men. 

The messages on the cards contain racial slurs, insults, and accusations that various members of the family were criminals, pedophiles, drug dealers or infected with HIV. 

Sweeney referenced the incident at the post office, and made clear in the postcards that he had been able to uncover an alarming amount of personal information about the family, including birth dates, social security numbers, license plate numbers and the types of vehicles they drove.

He also sent postcards to schools and neighbors of the victims, purporting to be from the Sex Offender Registry and claiming that E.R.'s husband had been convicted of a sexual offense involving a child, which was not true.

'I intend to be with you for life'

The family reported the harassment to the Ada County Sheriff's Office and met with detectives. Detectives checked the postcards for fingerprints, and followed up on any leads, creating multiple photo lineups in hopes that E.R. could identify the man she argued with at the post office. 

But none of the leads panned out, and as the months turned into years, the postcards kept coming.   

"Last month, I visited your house twice in the early morning hours while you slept. Naturally, I removed my license plates so that street cameras could not identify my car," Sweeney wrote in July of 2016. "And I still patrol the post office daily in an effort to sport (sic) you. You have only your big mouth to blame for all of this." 

Sweeney also sent postcards to the employers of several of the family members, as well as sending one to the Idaho Black History Museum, in which he uses repeated racial slurs and signs the card as if it was sent by E.R. 

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Even after the death of E.R.'s husband, and the family's move to a new address in Boise, Sweeney kept writing. He later told investigators that he gleaned information about his victims online, and hired a private investigator to find out more personal information about each of them. 

At one point, according to court documents, he sent out messages to prison inmates around the country, claiming to be E.R. and asking for letters. As a result, both she and one of her daughters received letters from about 75 prisoners convicted of serious offenses like murder and terrorism, including Idaho serial killer Joseph Duncan and D.C. Beltway sniper Lee Malvo.

"It's December! This is our first anniversary! We met at the post office in December 2015," Sweeney wrote in December 2016. "I intend to be with you for life! Sometime in 2017, I'm taking a trip to Portland to visit [daughter's place of employment] and a friend in that city. She is DYING to see me."

A second confrontation, a new target

Despite repeated efforts by investigators, the case did not begin coming together until November of 2018, when Sweeney zeroed in on new targets. 

According to federal court documents, a couple began receiving similar harassment after a confrontation with Sweeney at the drive-through window at a Wells Fargo bank in Garden City.  

As with the other family, Sweeney sent the couple - identified as L.J. and D.J. - threatening postcards, and mailed other cards to their neighbor and nearby schools accusing L.J. of being a sex offender. 

In one of the postcards, sent in November of 2018 to the principal of a junior high school in Boise, Sweeney falsely wrote that L.J. had been convicted of raping a child in a different state and that "he has been seen lurking about your school." 

Similarities between the postcards sent to the two different families - including the use of a manual typewriter and the distinctive flower in the top corner - convinced investigators they were dealing with the same suspect. 

Using Wells Fargo video surveillance images from the day of the incident, investigators were ultimately able to identify Sweeney as the person who had argued with L.J. and D.J. at the bank. That couple, along with E.R., also picked Sweeney out of a photo lineup as the perpetrator.

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The U.S. Postal Inspection Service served a warrant on Sweeney's house - located about a half-mile from the post office and a few miles from the Wells Fargo - on March 4, 2019, seizing the typewriter used to send the postcards.

According to a U.S. postal investigator, portraits of Adolph Hitler and two live rattlesnakes were also found inside his house.

In an interview with law enforcement, Sweeney admitted sending the postcards "as a form of retaliation."

"The Defendant said he felt the victims had embarrassed him and it made him feel better to send the postcards knowing the content would upset them," officials wrote in court documents.

Sweeney told police he sent the racist messages and accusations of pedophilia because he wanted to get his victims in trouble or hurt their reputations. 

"He stated he was very careful in sending the postcards and admitted to only purchasing small quantities at a time and paying cash for them, wiping his fingerprints off of them, mailing them from various locations around the city and using the Carson Wells or Carson Welles aliases," an investigator wrote. 

A life of crime

Investigators quickly realized that the yearslong harassment campaign was not Sweeney's first crime. Court documents list an "extensive criminal history" that includes convictions of mail fraud, robbery, obscenity, forgery, weapons charges, as well as attempted homicide for shooting at a police officer with a Thompson submachine gun in New Jersey the 1960's. 

The New York Times even profiled Sweeney in 1994 after he launched a business designed to "school" people who were about to go to federal prison, touting his own criminal background and long stints behind bars as qualifications. 

"I remember it was Nietzsche who wrote, 'The crime is not in the act but in the stupidity of being caught,'" Sweeney is quoted as telling the New York Times reporter.

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The same saying is listed as Sweeney's "favorite quote" on his public Facebook page, an investigator noted. 

Law enforcement also uncovered a history of Sweeney threatening and harassing people through the mail, in a manner similar to the cases in the Boise area.

When he was living in New Jersey in 1993, according to court documents, Sweeney became aggravated that the children in his neighbors' apartment were too noisy, and began harassing that family through the mail. Sweeney tampered with the family's locks, had all their mail forwarded to Iowa, sent porn catalogs to their nine-year-old son and wrote letters to his neighbor's coworkers, community center, and the school the victim's son attended saying that the neighbor was infected with HIV. 

When he was ultimately caught and charged in that case, Sweeney told police he had been trying to push the victims into moving out of his building. 

In April of 2017 - at the same time he was stalking E.R.'s family - investigators say Sweeney also mailed a raging, offensive letter to the now-retired founder of the Department of Justice's witness security program. In it, Sweeney blames the man for getting him kicked out of a witness protection program in prison, repeatedly calls him anti-Semitic slurs and writes that he wishes that the man, along with his wife and children, had been sent to Auschwitz. 

"Venomously yours, Frank Abbot Sweeney," the letter concludes. 

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Sweeney pleaded guilty to the stalking charges against the two families in  August 2019, signing a plea agreement acknowledging that he targeted his victims "with the intent to harass or intimidate."

In addition to the four years and three months behind bars, he was ordered to pay a $6,000 fine and spend three years on probation after his release from prison. 

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