South Carolina Man and Woman Plead Guilty to Hate Crime and Conspiracy for Bias-Motivated Armed Robberies Targeting Hispanic Victims
James Benjamin Jones, 35, pleaded guilty today to two federal hate crimes for threatening two Muslim grocery stores in Fort Myers, Florida, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III for the Middle District of Florida.
During the plea proceedings, Jones admitted that he threatened the owners of two Muslim grocery stores last year. In June, he threatened to harm the owner of Halal Meat and Grocery, if he did not close down his business. Specifically, Jones threatened the owner “to shut down the business” and said that “four people will come with guns and they will blow up [the owner]” if the store was not closed in one month. The defendant further stated that he and others would be “keeping an eye” on the owner to ensure that the owner was closing the business, as Jones and others “will blow up all Muslims and get this land back.” Later in July, Jones threatened the owner of Sahara Mediterranean Market to close his business down. Jones told the owner of this grocery store that he (Jones) was from “the good temple” and that “we decided whatever happened in Orlando is not gonna (sic) happen again. We don’t need no halal business in the area either you or the other guys (referring to the Halal Meat and Grocery Store) back there.” Jones then told the owner, “so for your safety and your family’s safety, you got two months to go, to leave.”
“The defendant made violent threats in an attempt to extinguish people’s economic livelihood simply because of their religion,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting the federal laws that prohibit such conduct.”
“Our Office is committed to prosecuting those who threaten others on the basis of their national origin or religious beliefs,” said U.S. Attorney Bentley.
A sentencing hearing has not yet been set.
The FBI and the Fort Myers Police Department investigated this matter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesus M. Casas of the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorney Maura White of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.