FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
ZACHARY J. ROLNIK PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL HATE CRIME
VIOLATIONS AGAINST DR. JAMES J. ZOGBY
WASHINGTON, D.C.- Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph F. Boyd, Jr. and United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Michael J. Sullivan announced today that 40-year old Zachary J. Rolnik of Hanover, Massachusetts, pled guilty in federal district court to interfering with the civil rights of Dr. James J. Zogby of Washington, D.C., the president of the Arab-American Institute, a national organization that advocates for Arab-Americans.
Rolnik admitted and pled guilty to placing a telephone call to Dr. Zogby in Washington on the morning of September 12, 2001, and leaving a voice mail message in which he threatened to kill Dr. Zogby and his children because of Dr. Zogby's role in encouraging others to participate in the political process and the enjoyment of federal benefits without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. Rolnik faces up to one year in prison.
"Threatening others based upon race, national origin and religion undermines the foundation upon which our country is built," said Boyd. "A threat against a national figure who advocates for the rights of a minority group – in this case Arab-Americans – is particularly harmful and will not be permitted. This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to the enforcement of criminal civil rights laws."
"Intimidating or threatening someone because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs is unconscionable," said Sullivan. "We will use every prosecutorial tool available to guard the civil rights of all American citizens."
This case is one of ten federal prosecutions initiated nationwide since the events of September 11 involving threats or acts of violence against persons who are, or were perceived to be, Arab or Muslim. The Department of Justice also has been coordinating with state and local authorities, who have initiated over 70 prosecutions of such incidents under state statutes.
There have been guilty pleas in four other federal cases where threats were made to persons because of their perceived nationality:
•Thomas Iverson pled guilty to telephoning a bomb threat on September 29, 2001, against a Jordanian American liquor store in Beloit, Wisconsin. Iverson was sentenced to 27 months incarceration on April 12, 2002;
•Joe Luis Montez pled guilty to placing telephone calls on September 17, 2001, in Hewitt, Texas, threatening Sikhs employed at a truck stop. Montez was sentenced to 2 years probation and a $500 fine on January 30, 2002;
•Justin Scott-Priestly Bolen pled guilty on February 6, 2002, to interfering with the housing rights of a Pakistani-American family in Fenton, Michigan, by leaving a threatening message on its answering machine on October 10, 2001. Bolen was sentenced on May 14, 2002, to 10 months incarceration; and
•Wesley Fritts pled guilty in Madison, Wisconsin for an anthrax hoax letter mailed to an Arab American restaurant. Fritts was sentenced to 21 months incarceration on May 13, 2002.
Other successful federal criminal civil rights prosecutions have addressed acts of violence:
•In Salt Lake City, James Herrick was sentenced to 51 months incarceration on January 7, 2002, after pleading guilty to setting fire to a Pakistani restaurant in Salt Lake City on September 13, 2001; and
•Patrick Cunningham awaits sentencing in Seattle, Washington, after pleading guilty on May 9, 2002, to attempting to set fire to automobiles and shooting at worshipers at a mosque in violation.
Meanwhile, federal charges are pending against five defendants in three other cases, alleging that the victims were targeted because of their perceived race, nationality, or religion, which have been brought in the aftermath of September 11:
•Jason and Travis Kitts were charged in Knoxville, Tennessee, with assaulting the Indian-American resident managers of a motel on September 24, 2001;
•Irving David Rubin and Earl Leslie Krugel, members of the Jewish Defense League, have been indicted in Los Angeles for conspiring to bomb a mosque and the California office of United States Representative Darrell Issa; and
•Charles D. Franklin was indicted on April 17, 2002, for crashing a pick-up truck into a Tallahassee, Florida mosque.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, the Criminal Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and the FBI worked together to investigate and prosecute this matter.