Guilty plea for e-mail threat sender
A New Jersey man who went by "Devilfish" as he sent threatening e-mails to employees at the D.C.-based headquarters of the National Council of La Raza and other Latino civil rights groups pleaded guilty Wednesday to his years-long campaign, federal prosecutors said.
Vincent Johnson, 61, of Brick, N.J., sent dozens of e-mails suggesting Latino leaders should have wills prepared, listing them under "RIP" and claiming they were being watched and were "dead meat" who should be shot among other intimidating messages, according to his plea.
The threats were sent between 2006 and 2009 as he tried to dissuade the groups from acting on behalf of issues important to Latinos, Johnson admitted in federal court in Trenton, N.J.
The Internet messages -- which were investigated by the FBI -- went to La Raza; LatinoJustice: Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; the League of United Latin American Citizens; and the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.
Johnson is scheduled for sentencing in January on five counts of interfering with the exercise of civil rights and five counts of transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce. The charges carry potential prison terms and fines.
Lisa Navarrete, an adviser to La Raza's president, was among those who received the e-mails. They often surfaced after televised appearances by staff or spokesmen or news accounts of the group's work, particularly on immigration, she said.
"It ebbed and flowed," she said in an interview with The Washington Post Wednesday, but Devilfish "usually was on a long rant" with threats so personal and sustained that they distinguished his e-mails from others that challenge the organization's activities.
The groups learned through the FBI, Navarrete said, that the same e-mailer was contacting employees at each of the organizations. "The fear was this was not the 99.9 percent of people who exercise their free speech to disagree with us but that point one-percent who would act out violently," she said.
La Raza enhanced security for its leadership and at events partly due to those e-mails, which "exacted a financial and emotional toll on us."
After Johnson's plea, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement that “threats of hate-fueled violence because of the color of someone’s skin, the language they speak or the country from which they come, will not be tolerated in this country.”
Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, added that "hiding behind the perceived anonymity of a computer screen to make hateful threats will provide no protection from prosecution.”
-- Mary Pat Flaherty
Mary Pat Flaherty
| October 20, 2010; 5:23 PM ET
Categories: Around the Nation, From the Courthouse, Mary Pat Flaherty, The District
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