WASHINGTON – Michael Francis Bealonis, of Robinson, Penn., pleaded guilty today a charge related to the burning of a cross in the yard of an African-American juvenile in November 2009, the Justice Department announced today.
Bealonis, 19, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with the housing rights of another in federal court in Pittsburgh before Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill. Information presented during the plea hearing established that a cross burning occurred on Nov. 14, 2009, at a residence in Robinson that was home to a family with three minor children, one of whom is African-American and an adopted son of the family. The investigation determined that Bealonis and his co-conspirators agreed to burn a cross in the backyard of the home, and used boards to construct a 6-foot wooden cross with athletic socks attached that had been soaked in accelerant. Bealonis and one of his co-conspirators transported the cross to the garage of another co-conspirator, where they poured gasoline on the cross before Bealonis took it, jumped over a fence and carried it to the back yard of the victim’s house, where he pushed the cross into the ground and lit it. He also used racial slurs and expressed racial animus during the cross burning.
"This teen used an unmistakable symbol of bigotry and hate to threaten a family with violence simply because the race of a child. These incidents have no place in our country, and they are a reminder of the civil rights challenges we still face today," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We will continue to aggressively prosecute hate crimes of this kind."
"This is a very important case, the prosecution of which reflects our commitment to civil rights and intolerance of any civil rights violations," stated U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David Hickton.
Sentencing has been set for May 25, 2011, at 1 p.m. The law provides for a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by the FBI, together with the Pennsylvania State Police. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Patricia A. Sumner from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.