Orange County Man Sentenced to Nearly Five Years in Prison for Vehicular Assault that Severely Injured Federal Officer
SANTA ANA, California – An Aliso Viejo man was sentenced today to 57 months in federal prison for deliberating driving his Mercedes-Benz sedan into and severely injuring a U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee at the federal building in Laguna Niguel.
Geoffrey Donald Rickner, 48, was sentenced by United States District Judge James V. Selna.
Rickner pleaded guilty on May 14 to one felony count of assault on a federal employee by use of a dangerous and deadly weapon and inflicting bodily injury.
On March 3, 2016, Rickner deliberately drove his Mercedes-Benz into CBP Security Specialist Jose Gutierrez at the Chet Holifield Federal Building, which is commonly known as the Ziggurat Building. Mr. Gutierrez was in a well-marked crosswalk and was wearing his federal employee identification card at the time of the attack. He suffered permanent and life-threatening injuries – including head trauma, broken ribs, internal bleeding and badly damaged legs – that put him in the hospital for nearly three weeks and continue to cause him pain and physical impairment.
When Rickner struck Mr. Gutierrez, the vehicle was travelling at such a high rate of speed that it continued traveling into the Ziggurat, going through a metal garage door, and stopping only when it struck a concrete wall inside the building.
By the time of the March 2016 attack, Rickner had been involved in a years-long dispute with the IRS regarding his tax situation, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum. Though he had worked and earned money, Rickner, a certified financial planner, became involved in a “tax denial” group, stopped paying taxes, and began incurring large civil penalties for non-payment of tax.
“Although the financial mess was entirely of his own making, the resulting stress made defendant frustrated and angry…with the IRS and, more generally, the U.S. government,” according to the government’s sentencing brief.
In the hours leading up to the assault, Rickner had been seen behaving suspiciously, prompting building security personnel at one point to detain him. At that time, he made comments about owing money to the IRS. Rickner had shown up to the Ziggurat Building earlier that day to talk with someone at the IRS, despite not having an appointment. Rickner was told to leave the premises, and he did. But he returned later in the day, during which time he was seen pacing the building in an agitated manner, and he subsequently got into his car, later crashing into Mr. Gutierrez in the crosswalk.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
This matter was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Robert J. Keenan of the Santa Ana Branch Office.