Ex-journalist gets 5 years in prison in Jewish threats case

AP News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2017 5:11 PM
Ex-journalist gets 5 years in prison in Jewish threats case

NEW YORK (AP) — A former journalist from St. Louis who terrorized his ex-girlfriend and then made bomb threats in her name to Jewish groups was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison after the ex-girlfriend told the court the case shows "domestic terrorism is rooted in violence against women."

U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel said Juan Thompson, 32, committed domestic terrorism with threats in the name of New York social worker Francesca Rossi on a dozen occasions against Jewish community centers, schools or other facilities nationwide.

The threats came early this year, when more than 150 bomb threats were reported against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces. Authorities blamed most on an 18-year-old Israeli-American Jewish hacker arrested in Israel in March.

The judge said Thompson created a sustained campaign against Rossi "to terrorize her and cause pain" to others.

Thompson, who pleaded guilty in June to cyber stalking and making fake bomb threats to a dozen Jewish facilities, apologized at the sentencing, conceding, "There are wounds ... that will probably never heal."

Thompson's sentence was a year longer than prosecutors had requested, but the judge said it was warranted for a man who overcame an abusive childhood to graduate from Vassar College in 2013 and then turn his intelligence, social media expertise and creativity into "weapons against others."

"His intelligence and creativity made him such a horror," the judge said.

Rossi, wearing a shirt that said "Believe Women," said she was grateful to be alive but was "not convinced that he still won't try to kill me."

"The abuse and victimization that I was subjected to is not unusual," Rossi said. "We are here because domestic terrorism is rooted in violence against women. ... Intimate-partner violence needs more legal attention, given that 93 percent of female homicides are committed by a man the victim knows."

She also said digital technology should be recognized as "a powerful weapon to inflict violence."

"Countless people are subjected to the same type and degree of stalking and abuse that Juan inflicted on me," she said. "And worse."

She said when she met Thompson he seemed to be the "perfect man," charming and intelligent, a passionate journalist who spoke of social justice.

Once living together, the "real Juan emerged," as he began to "isolate, shame and abuse me," Rossi said.

She said he convinced her that ex-boyfriends were stalking and threatening her. She said he made it seem an ex-boyfriend had posted a nude picture of her as his Facebook profile picture and an ex-boyfriend's wife had sued, alleging she had given a sexually transmitted disease to her husband.

Rossi said the abuse worsened in the nine months after she ended the relationship, with Thompson trying to get her fired the next day by posing as multiple journalists claiming to her bosses that she was being investigated for professional and ethical wrongdoing.

"Juan devoted over an entire year to destroying my life," she said. "He painted me as an anti-Semite, a racist, a drunk, a slut, a drug dealer, a child pornographer and a gun runner. He did everything that he could to instill terror in my life."

Rossi, who was composed during her lengthy statement but cried at least once, said Thompson used every digital platform imaginable to harass her and went after at least 47 people in her life, including her 92-year-old grandmother. She said she asked law enforcement for help more than 20 times but was told: "It will get worse, and then we can try to help."

Rossi said Thompson notified a Brooklyn police station five months before his arrest that Rossi was going to "shoot up" the precinct, causing the New York Police Department to interview her. Another time, she said, the NYPD firearms division showed up to investigate if she was selling guns.

Finally, the FBI investigated after Thompson posed as Rossi to report a threat to a San Diego Jewish community center, she recalled. Four days later, Thompson was arrested.