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U.S. Attorney Highlights Recent Prosecutions Of True Threats And Hate Crimes Cases, Will Continue To Pursue These Cases In Federal Court

U.S. Attorney Highlights Recent Prosecutions Of True Threats And Hate Crimes Cases, Will Continue To Pursue These Cases In Federal Court

U.S. Attorney Highlights Recent Prosecutions Of True Threats And Hate Crimes Cases, Will Continue To Pursue These Cases In Federal Court

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces the results of the Middle District of Florida’s efforts to combat the disturbing spike in threats against public officials, religious institutions, and individuals in our community, as well as crimes motivated by hate-based ideologies. Over approximately the past year and half, federal prosecutors across the District have prosecuted more than 27 defendants for threats, stalking, harassment, interference with the exercise of civil rights, and other hate-based crimes. The defendants charged in these cases committed federal offenses on the internet, over the phone, in voicemails, on commercial aircraft, and in person. The attached chart details the threat and hate-crimes prosecutions that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has handled in the last year and a half.

The threats of violence, threatening conduct, and actions charged in the listed cases have caused serious harm to individual and organizational victims. Often these crimes create major disruptions in the continuity of operation of schools, retail establishments, medical facilities, houses of worship, and government offices. As the attached chart illustrates, federal judges have imposed substantial sentences on defendants charged with threat-related offenses in the Middle District of Florida. For example, the Court sentenced seven of these defendants to terms of imprisonment of more than a year. In some cases, the Court imposed sentences of five years’ imprisonment.

The Middle District of Florida’s pursuit of threat crimes is consistent with its overall strategy of reducing violent crime and sending the message to the community that threats of violence will also be taken seriously.  

“If you threaten somebody with violence, law enforcement will take you at your word,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg. “And if you commit a crime based on hate, we will aggressively investigate and prosecute those crimes, too. Law enforcement officers and federal prosecutors will act quickly to disrupt true threats and hate-based crimes by charging you in federal court.”

“Thanks to our strong law enforcement partnerships, we have the people, resources, and technology to identify and arrest those making violent or hate-based threats,” said FBI Tampa Division Special Agent in Charge David Walker. “While the FBI does not and will not police ideology, we take threats to life seriously, and so should anyone thinking about making one.”

“FDLE takes every threat seriously. We will work with our law enforcement partners and exhaust our investigative resources to apprehend anyone who dares to incite harm on Florida’s citizens,” says FDLE Fort Myers Special Agent in Charge Eli Lawson. “Safeguarding Florida’s faith-based communities is paramount.”          

Many of the cases that have been prosecuted involved threats directed at victims based on their race, religion, color, national original, or sexual orientation.

Significant cases prosecuted in the past year include:

In Jacksonville in July 2023, Frederick Eugene Pierallini III (27, Jacksonville) pleaded guilty to two federal hate crimes related to intimidating two Black women and interfering with their enjoyment of federally protected activities because of their race and color. According to court documents, on September 10, 2022, Pierallini directed racial slurs at a store cashier. He then threatened the clerk by brandishing and cocking a shotgun. Two days later, Pierallini approached a woman on a public sidewalk, directed racial slurs at her, and threatened to kill her. Pierallini then left, returned with a shotgun, and fired a single shot. Pierallini is scheduled to be sentenced on April 24, 2024, and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for each count. The FBI Jacksonville Field Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Washington and Trial Attorney Anna Gotfryd of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.

In Orlando in January 2024, Jeziah Guagno (24, Boynton Beach) was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for mailing threatening communications to a federal judge. According to court documents, in May 2021, a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida received a threatening letter from M.S.—an inmate at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. The letter included violent threats to murder the judge and his wife. When interviewed, M.S. denied making the threats. Guagno, however, was also serving time in the same Florida prison as M.S. Subsequent DNA and fingerprint analysis by the FBI determined that Guagno’s DNA was on the envelope and his palmprint was on the letter. Further investigation revealed that the federal judge who had been threatened in the letter had previously dismissed a civil case filed by Guagno. This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, and the Florida Department of Corrections. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Tyrie K. Boyer and Belkis H. Crockett.

In Tampa in January 2024, Alexander Lightner (26, Venice) was charged by indictment with interstate transmission of a threat to injure and unlawful possession of a silencer. According to court filings, on December 29, 2023, Lightner made several online posts indicating his intent to carry out a mass shooting. Federal law enforcement subsequently executed a search warrant at Lightner’s residence and located an unregistered firearm silencer, ammunition, and multiple firearms in his bedroom. An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty. This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, with valuable assistance from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Sarasota Police Department, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lindsey Schmidt. 

Threat cases prosecuted in the Middle District of Florida were investigated by the Anaheim Police Department, the Carbondale Police Department, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Florida Department of Corrections, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Hialeah Police Department, the Hollywood Police Department, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority Police Department, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas City Police Department, the Miami Dade Police Department, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas Park Police Department, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the Sarasota Police Department, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, the Supreme Court of the United States Police Department, the Tampa Police Department, the Temple Terrace Police Department, the Transportation Security Administration, the United States Capitol Police, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and other state and local partners.

These cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Risha Asokan, Tyrie Boyer, Erin Favorit, Carlton Gammons, William Hamilton, Stacie Harris, Abigail King, Kirwinn Mike, Brooke Padgett, Candace Rich, Lindsey Schmidt, Ilyssa Spergel, Karyna Valdes, Ashley Washington, and Kara Wick, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Wheeler.

For more information about other threat cases prosecuted by the Middle District of Florida, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/pr.

In addition to bringing federal prosecutions arising from this conduct, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has engaged in community efforts aimed at deescalating hate speech and encouraging tolerance and understanding. The Office recently implemented the Department of Justice’s United Against Hate initiative, which seeks to teach the community how to identify, report, and help prevent hate crimes and to build trust between law enforcement and communities. To provide information about some of the federal resources and programs that are available for identifying, reporting, and preventing hate crimes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has set up a dedicated webpage (www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/unitedagainsthate).

Defendant

(Age, Residence)

Charge(s)

Maximum Terms of Imprisonment

Status

                                                

Sean Albert

(20, Winter Park)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure

Sentenced to time served (approximately 8.5 months) on September 14, 2023.

Christopher Au- Young

(36, California)

Interstate stalking (6 counts)

 

Sentenced to 60 months in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release on November 1, 2023.

Michael Basaman

(45, Temple Terrace)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure (2 counts)

Maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

Charged by indictment, scheduled for trial on April 5, 2024.

Mario Bentley          

(39, Jacksonville)

Interstate stalking (2 counts) and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon

Maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

Charged by indictment on January 23, 2024.

Curtis Brown

(35, Indian River)

Threatening to kill a United States judge

Sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release on June 27, 2023.

Michael Dambrosia

(61, Ocala)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure, making false statement in connection with the attempted purchase of a firearm

Maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.

Charged by indictment, scheduled for trial on March 4, 2024.

Caleb Hunter Freestone

(28, Miami)

Gabriella Oropesa

(25, Cooper City)

 Anarella Rivera

(47, Hialeah)

 Amber Smith-Stewart

(24, Okeechobee)

Conspiracy Against Rights and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (2 counts)

Maximum penalty of 12 years in federal prison.

Charged by superseding indictment, scheduled for trial in March 2024.

Jeziah Guagno

(24, Boynton Beach)

Mailing a threat to injure

 

Sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release on January 9, 2024.

David Hannon

(67, Sarasota)

Threatening to kill a United States congresswoman

Sentenced to 36 months of federal probation on July 6, 2022.

Robert Dewayne Lashley

(52, Citrus Springs)

Hate Crime Acts

Sentenced to 26 months in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release on January 25, 2023.

Roy Lamar Lashley

(56, Citrus Springs)

Hate Crime Acts

 

Sentenced to 60 months in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release on January 25, 2023.

Jordan Patrick Leahy

(29, Seminole)

Interference with federally protective activities based on race (2 counts)

Sentenced to 24 months in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release on November 7, 2022.

Alexander Lightner

(26, Sarasota)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure, possession of unregistered silencer

Maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.

Charged by indictment, scheduled for trial on March 4, 2024.

Deep Alpesh Kumar Patel

(21, Sarasota)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure

Maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison.

Pleaded guilty, scheduled for sentencing on March 14, 2024.

Frederick Eugene Pierallini III (27, Jacksonville)

Interference with federally protective activities based on race (2 counts)

Maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

Pleaded guilty, scheduled for sentencing in April 2024.

 

Justin Rancourt

(35, St. Petersburg)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure

Sentenced on July 11, 2023, to time served (approximately 10 months in federal prison) to be followed by 120 months of supervised release.

Neal Sidhwaney

(43, Fernandina Beach)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure

Maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison.

Pleaded guilty, scheduled for sentencing on April 1, 2024.

Evan Sims

(41, Rhode Island)

False information and threats regarding the possession of an explosive on an airplane

Maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison.

Charged by complaint on December 6, 2023.

Aaron Thompson

(43, Raiford)

Mailing a threat to injure

Sentenced to 41 months in federal prison on October 23, 2023.

 

Stephen Thorn

(65, Pensacola)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure, making telephone calls without disclosing identity to abuse, threaten, and harass

Maximum penalty of 7 years in federal prison

Charged by indictment, scheduled for trial in June 2024.

Robert Trout

(19, St. Petersburg)

Transmission of interstate threat to injure

Maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison.

Charged by indictment, scheduled for trial on February 5, 2024.

*Sealed cases and certain other cases are not listed in this chart.

Originally published at https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/pr/us-attorney-highlights-recent-prosecutions-true-threats-and-hate-crimes-cases-will

The post U.S. Attorney Highlights Recent Prosecutions Of True Threats And Hate Crimes Cases, Will Continue To Pursue These Cases In Federal Court first appeared on City News Miami.

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