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Friday, March 10, 2017

Pasco County, Florida, Man Pleads Guilty to 2012 Cross Burning

The Justice Department today announced that Thomas Herris Sigler, III, 45, of Port Richey, Florida, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, to one count of conspiring with others to threaten, intimidate, and interfere with an interracial couple’s enjoyment of their housing rights, in violation of U.S. Code, Title 18 U.S.C. § 241.

“The defendant threatened and intimidated a couple in their home and neighborhood, denying them of the simple ability to feel safe where they lived, on account of race,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who engage in such violent acts.”

“No one should be threatened or intimidated in his home because of his race, color, or creed,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III for the Middle District of Florida. “It is sad that crosses are being burned in front yards in the 21st century. Acts of hatred such as this simply cannot be tolerated under law.”

“Unfortunately, people hold bias and prejudice against others for no apparent reason,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the FBI Tampa Division.  “This case demonstrates people who act out such prejudices will be held accountable. Such behavior is unacceptable.”

According to court documents, in September and October 2012, Sigler was living on Seward Drive in Port Richey in a predominantly white community.  After an interracial couple moved next door, Sigler harassed the African-American neighbor with racial slurs and derogatory statements, and on one occasion, physically assaulted him.

On Halloween night, Sigler attended a party at a neighbor’s house, where several Seward Drive residents decided to burn a cross in the front yard of the interracial couple in order to intimidate them and force them to move from the residence.  Using wood and tools from the host of the Halloween party, Sigler and his co-conspirators constructed a wooden cross and poured gasoline on the cross.  Sigler’s co-conspirators then carried the cross to the victims’ front yard, leaned it against their mailbox, and set the cross on fire.

One of Sigler’s co-conspirators, Pascual Carlos Pietri, pled guilty to the same charge as Sigler in 2015, and was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment on March 23, 2016.  A third co-conspirator, William A. Dennis, 56, of Pasco County, Florida, is also charged for his role in the conspiracy.

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.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 
17-262
Updated April 25, 2017