BY JOHN SNYDER
OF NORTHERN VALLEY PRESS
NEW YORK — The attorney for a man convicted in federal court of cyberstalking and making bomb threats against Jewish community centers says his client will appeal his sentence of five years imprisonment
The defendant, Juan M. Thompson, 32, of St. Louis, Missouri, admitted to threatening at least eight Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions nationwide as part of a campaign to harass and intimidate an ex-girlfriend.
Over a period of months in 2016 and 2017, Thompson communicated at least 12 threats to JCCs in 10 states and Canada, among his other crimes.
Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly was among the JCCs to receive threats during this period.
Officials said Thompson phoned in and emailed many of the threats under his ex-girlfriend’s name in an attempt to ruin her life.
He also made at least one threat under his own name in a failed effort to convince authorities she had hacked his email and was framing him for “her” crimes.
Prosecutors showed he also had emailed the Anti-Defamation League in late February, pointing to his ex-girlfriend, a New York City social worker, as the perpetrator of all of the bomb threats.
Thompson, who reported for The Intercept web magazine from November 2014 to January 2016—when he was fired over ethical breaches—was extradited to New York and charged with one count of cyberstalking.
He appeared in Manhattan federal court on March 29, 2017. On April 10, he pleaded not guilty to that charge. On June 13, Thompson pleaded guilty to sending bomb threats to branches of Jewish Community Centers.
He was sentenced Dec. 20 to 60 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
His threats against the centers included references to a “Jewish Newtown,” a reference to the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman murdered 26 children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School and, separately, his mother.
In court, Thompson’s main target, Francesca Rossi of Brooklyn, said he had abused her during and after their relationship and attempted to frame her as a child pornographer and drug dealer, in addition to making bomb threats against Jewish institutions in her name.
“I feared for my life. Every day. Despite being present today at his sentencing, I’m not convinced that he still won’t try to kill me,” Rossi said in her victim impact statement.
The judge explained he was exceeding the recommended prison sentence due to the level of intensity and malice of Thompson’s crimes, Reuters reported.
He added that Thompson had committed domestic terrorism.
After sentencing, acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in part that Thompson now is “held to account and justly punished” for causing “severe distress to both his victim and to Jewish communities around the country.”
Thompson was fired from The Intercept in part because he was caught fabricating a source, “Scott Roof,” a “cousin” of Dylann Roof, the racist gunman who killed nine black parishioners in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, for a story.
Threats were copycat crimes
According to prosecutors, Thompson’s threats were copycat crimes committed during a wave of nearly 150 bomb threats to Jewish institutions during the first three months of 2017.
New York police officials said anti-Semitic crimes jumped by 94 percent through the end of February compared to the same period in 2016.
“We’ve never seen the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen,” an Anti-Defamation League leader said in published reports.
Nearly three weeks after Thompson’s arrest, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in Israel for allegedly making the bulk of the threats, the Times of Israel reported.
In March, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino’s office offered $10,000 rewards for tips from the public leading to “bias crime” convictions.
Porrino said at the time that his office was taking action on multiple fronts.
“As attorney general, I can assure you that my office shares the community’s concern over the despicable and cowardly acts that have been reported,” Porrino said.
“We are committed to identifying and prosecuting anyone engaged in such acts of hate, and we urge the public at large to take advantage of our new reward program by being vigilant in providing tips and leads.”
The actions were explained as being taken after threats made against Jewish institutions and other religious organizations since the beginning of the year.
Mosques around the country have also been subjected to threats of violence, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Unrelated bomb threats were left at mosques in Ohio and Georgia at the time of Thompson’s activity against Jews.
Officials also announced “target-hardening measures” at religious institutions by state police and “increased security training at houses of worship” provided by the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP).
‘We all need to remain vigilant’
Jordan Shenker, CEO of Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, told Northern Valley Press last week that once Thompson was apprehended, threatening communications to his center stopped.
Shenker preferred to talk about the bigger picture rather than discuss threats called in to any particular center.
“More broadly, we all need to remain vigilant that we are all responsible in our community to stand up to and speak out against hateful acts or speech directed at anyone,” Shenker said.
He called for sharing “collective responsibility for making sure we do not tolerate this behavior from others will we success in eliminating it from our society.”
Shenker also said his organization is “gratified that our law enforcement community and justice system apprehended and successfully prosecuted and convicted someone responsible for these acts of hatred.”
With the threats still fresh, a rally at JCC on the Palisades featured U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who announced that he led 11 other state delegates in penning a letter to congressional leadership concerning bias crimes.
The letter requested a measure to provide funding for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to “provide desperately needed support, preparedness planning, and resources for law enforcement to address this outbreak.”
The bipartisan letter was signed by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, and Rep. Bill Pascrell (NJ-9), among others.
At the rally, Menendez said the JCC is not a place for fear.
“That is exactly what individuals behind these bomb threats have aimed to do—instill fear. They evoke a history of intimidation and violence against Jewish communities that many of us would like to believe are relics of the past,” the senator said.
“But when these events take place alongside other anti-Semitic incidents—desecration of Jewish cemeteries, swastikas painted on park bridges and schools, harassment of Jewish journalists, broken windows in synagogues—we learn again that anti-Semitism is not dead but dormant, and all too easily awoken,” he said.
“Such vile actions cannot be met with silence,” he said.
Gottheimer also spoke out against a then-recent anti-Semitic incident in Mahwah where two swastikas were found on the boarded-up former Apple Ridge Country Club.
“Such hatred, targeted at any group or religion, has no place in our society,” Gottheimer said. “As someone who has been the target of anti-Semitism, I know that, unfortunately, this is but one incident in a much broader problem plaguing our country. It must not be swept under the rug.”
Photo courtesy BRIC TV via YouTube