WASHINGTON - Ralph Nicoletti pleaded guilty in Brooklyn, N.Y., federal court today before U.S. District Judge Carol B. Amon to committing three assaults targeting African-American residents in Staten Island, N.Y., on the night of President Barack Obama’s election victory. Nicoletti was the last of four defendants to plead guilty in the federal prosecution stemming from the attacks. The other three defendants – Bryan Garaventa, Michael Contreras and Brian Carranza – previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit the hate crime assaults and each face sentences of up to 10 years in prison. As part of his plea, Nicoletti has agreed to a sentence of 12 years, subject to the court’s approval.
The guilty plea was announced by Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division; Benton J. Campbell, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Joseph M. Demarest, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, FBI, New York Field Office; and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department.
At the plea proceeding, Nicoletti admitted that on Nov. 4, 2008, the night of the presidential election, the defendants decided to assault African-Americans in Staten Island after President Obama was declared the winner of the election. The defendants targeted African-Americans believing that they had voted for President Obama. Nicoletti drove the group to the Park Hill section of Staten Island, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, where they came upon an African-American teenager and assaulted him. Nicoletti struck the teenager with a metal pipe and Garaventa hit him with a collapsible police baton.
Nicoletti then drove to the Port Richmond section of Staten Island, where the defendants assaulted an unidentified African-American man. During that assault, Garaventa tripped the victim and pushed him to the ground.
The third assault was against an individual whom the defendants mistakenly believed was African-American. The plan was for Contreras to hit the victim with the police baton as the defendants drove by him. Instead, Nicoletti deliberately drove his car into the victim’s body. The victim was thrown onto the hood of the car and hit the front windshield, smashing it. The victim was seriously injured and remained in a coma for several weeks after the attack.
"This successful prosecution sends a clear message that racially-motivated acts of violence targeted at those who are exercising their right to vote are intolerable and will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted," said Acting Assistant Attorney General King. "It is a tragedy that these crimes occur at all, but the Department of Justice will remain vigilant in our efforts to combat hate crimes, as they tear at the very fabric of our great nation."
"The conduct of the defendants is shocking and deplorable," stated U.S. Attorney Campbell. "On a night of historic significance, these four angry men assaulted their victims in an attempt to punish them for exercising a fundamental right of all Americans – the right to vote. Those who commit such crimes will be swiftly apprehended, prosecuted and punished. We are grateful for our partnership with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the New York City Police Department, which has been vital to the success of this case, and I particularly wish to thank the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office for its assistance in this matter."
"The crimes these defendants have now admitted to were violent assaults that in one case nearly killed a man," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Demarest of the New York Field Office. "In attempting to intimidate voters, the defendants also violated the victims’ civil rights in a way that was an attack on the democratic process. These were serious crimes that prompted the serious response the FBI will always bring to bear in civil rights enforcement."
"It was important to make certain that those who seriously injured individuals, based on their race, did not escape justice," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "NYPD Inspector Michael J. Osgood, Commanding Officer of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force, had the foresight to assign a special team on Election Night until 4 a.m. the next morning. As a result, his investigators were in position to respond quickly to the bias attacks as reports of them began to emerge. Detectives located an eyewitness to one of the attacks, and their subsequent distribution of flyers in the Rosebank area of Staten Island over three days led to the first major break in the case. I also want to thank the FBI agents who helped, and the federal prosecutors who succeeded in winning the guilty pleas."
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Pamela K. Chen and Margo K. Brodie, and Department of Justice Special Litigation Counsel Kristy Parker.