District Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge For Making Bomb Threats Against Union Station
911 Call Led to Evacuation and Emergency Response Last Summer
WASHINGTON – James Cherry, 58, of Washington, D.C., pled guilty today to a federal charge stemming from a 911 call he made last summer that falsely claimed numerous bombs were set to go off at Union Station, announced Channing D. Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Andrew Vale, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Neil Trugman, Interim Chief of the Amtrak Police Department.
Cherry’s call led to an emergency response by law enforcement and the evacuation of the train station, as well as disruptions of train service, until the claim was found to be a hoax. In addition to the call regarding Union Station, which was the basis for the guilty plea, Cherry admitted making another two 911 calls with a bomb threat in downtown Washington.
Cherry pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge of threatening and conveying false information concerning use of an explosive. The charge carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison and potential financial penalties. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faces a likely range of 30 to 37 months in prison and a fine of up to $55,000. The plea agreement calls for Cherry to pay $36,153 in restitution to Amtrak. He is to be sentenced on May 24, 2017, by the Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
According to a statement of offense, signed by the defendant as well as the government, on Monday, July 25, 2016, at approximately 6:20 p.m., Cherry placed a call to 911 reporting there were two bombs “ready to go off in this building, one building 1818 Pennsylvania Avenue, next building is three blocks away. You figure it out, you figure it out.” Edward R. Murrow Park is located at 1818 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. The White House is within three blocks of that address. The United States Secret Service was notified of the threat. The World Bank is located on H Street facing the park and the numbers 1818 are prominently displayed on the side of the building. At approximately 6:31 p.m., the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) received another call stating, “There are two bombs.” This was followed by another call in which nothing was said. At about 6:32 p.m., a call back to the number received a voicemail for “James.”
On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, at approximately 5:06 p.m., at the beginning of the evening rush hour, Cherry placed another call to 911 using the same cell phone that he used two days earlier. This time, he reported that “there are eight bombs at Union Station set to go off” and threatened to kill “all you white people,” describing them as pigs.
Union Station, located at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, is the main interstate train station for Washington, D.C., used by interstate National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) trains, local Metro Transit trains, and MARC (Maryland Area Rail Commuter) and VRE (Virginia Railway Express) trains serving commuters from Maryland and Virginia. In addition, it is a major commercial center, with numerous retail outlets, and dining establishments.
The 911 threat call prompted an immediate emergency response. Union Station was evacuated and a sweep conducted of the exterior and interior of the building by Amtrak police, Capitol Police and Metro Transit Police K9s. The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force was mobilized and began an investigation. The Metropolitan Police Department assisted with guarding the exterior of the building, monitoring pedestrian travel while the other agencies conducted a sweep for hazardous materials.
After a thorough investigation, officials determined that the threat was a hoax. No explosive devices were found. Six Amtrak trains and passengers were disrupted as a result of the threat, which caused a monetary loss for Amtrak in the amount of $36,153. There were also five MARC (Maryland Area Rail Commuter) and two VRE (Virginia Railway Express) trains serving commuters from Maryland and Virginia delayed as a result of the threat.
A law enforcement investigation determined that Cherry was the subscriber and registered owner of the cell phone used to make the false bomb threats. Cherry was arrested in Southeast Washington on Dec. 16, 2016 and has been in custody ever since. Upon arrest, Cherry told law enforcement that he made the threat against Union Station when he was high and drunk.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Phillips, Assistant Director in Charge Vale, and Interim Chief Trugman commended the work of the emergency responders and those who investigated all of the hoax calls from the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the Amtrak Police Department, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, the Metro Transit Police, and the U.S. Secret Service. They also commended the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Mac Caille Petursson and Jorge Casillas, Legal Assistant Matthew Ruggiero, Document Management Analyst Christopher Oppliger. Finally, they expressed appreciation for the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Brenda J. Johnson, who is investigating and prosecuting the matter.