Third Conspirator Pleads Guilty to 2012 Florida Cross Burning
William A. Dennis, 56, of Port Richey, Florida, pleaded 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, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the Middle District of Florida.
According to court documents, in September and October 2012, Dennis was living on Seward Drive in Port Richey in a predominantly white community. After an interracial couple moved next door, Dennis joined others in harassing the African-American neighbor with racial slurs and derogatory statements.
On Halloween night, Dennis attended a party at a neighbor’s house, where several Seward Drive residents decided to burn an over six-foot tall 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, Dennis and his co-conspirators constructed a wooden cross, and Dennis poured gasoline on the cross. Dennis and a co-conspirator carried the cross to the victims’ front yard, leaned it against their mailbox, and Dennis instructed the co-conspirator to set the cross on fire.
“The defendant and his co-conspirators’ racially-fueled actions to threaten and intimidate a couple in their own home and neighborhood are reprehensible and will not be tolerated in our communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting those who engage in such violent acts of hate.”
“This guilty plea underscores our ongoing commitment to aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals who commit hate crimes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Muldrow.
“The FBI pledges to remain vigilant in protecting our communities from hateful acts of bias,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the FBI Tampa Division. “This case is an example of that commitment and determination to investigate crimes of hate and bring the offenders to justice.”
Two of Dennis’ co-conspirators, Thomas H. Sigler, III, and Pascual Carlos Pietri, previously pleaded guilty to the same charge. Pietri was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment, and Sigler’s sentencing date is pending.
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.