WASHINGTON, D.C. (WDAM) - This is a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department announced that Pascual Carlos Pietri, 53, of Port Richey, Florida, was sentenced to 37 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew of the Middle District of Florida for his role in a 2012 cross burning. He pleaded guilty on June 30, 2015, to one count of conspiring with others to threaten, intimidate and interfere with an interracial couple's enjoyment of their housing rights.
"Those who violently threaten others because of racial differences tear at the very fabric of our diverse American society," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "The laws that protect our society leave no place for hate crimes."
"Cross burning remains a vicious symbol of hatred," said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III. "All American families have the right to live where they choose, undisturbed by such racist threats. This prosecution sends a clear message that we will not tolerate hate crimes in our community."
According to court documents, on Oct. 31, 2012, Pietri was living with another individual on Seward Drive in Port Richey in a predominantly white community. After an interracial couple moved next door, Pietri heard other neighbors make racial slurs and derogatory statements about African-Americans in general, and specifically the African-American neighbor.
On Halloween night, Pietri attended a party at a neighbor's house, where several Seward Drive residents decided to burn a cross in the African-American man's yard to intimidate him. Using wood and tools from the host of the Halloween party, Pietri's co-conspirators constructed a wooden cross and obtained gasoline to pour on the cross. Pietri and a co-conspirator then carried the cross to the victims' front yard, leaned it against their mailbox and set the cross on fire. Pietri and the co-conspirators burned the cross in the victims' yard in an effort to intimidate the interracial couple.
This case was investigated by the FBI. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Josephine W. Thomas and Simon A. Gaugush of the Middle District of Florida, and Trial Attorney William E. Nolan of the Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section.