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Press Release

California woman sentenced to prison for making anti-Semitic phone threats to former Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida

MIAMI – Melanie Harris, 59 of Riverside, California, was sentenced yesterday to 32 months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, after previously pleading guilty to knowingly and intentionally transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce. Harris was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roy K. Altman during a hearing in Miami, Florida. 

“Defendant Melanie Harris’s anti-Semitic threats terrorized a Jewish family,” stated U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida. “Her hate-filled telephone calls and voicemails were abhorrent. No one should live in fear of threats, harassment, and hate-fueled violence. There is simply no place in our society for anyone who threatens Jews or anyone else in our diverse South Florida community. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with our FBI partners, will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those that threaten our safety and security, while seeking justice for the victims impacted by these vile crimes.” 

“Melanie Harris sent threatening communications to a Jewish family using vile and inflammatory language. The nature of her threats of violence towards the victims and their faith were clearly meant to evoke a climate of fear and intimidation. Such conduct cannot be tolerated,” said Jeffrey B. Veltri, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami Field Office. “Violence through words or actions is unacceptable and the FBI will continue to do everything we can to identify, arrest, and bring to justice those who engage in similar conduct.”

According to the facts admitted at the change of plea, on Oct. 3, 2022, Harris made multiple calls to Victim 1’s cell phone, and left four separate threatening voicemails, with the intent to communicate a true threat and with the knowledge that the communications would be seen as true threats.  In one of these four October 3 voicemails, Harris stated in relevant part: “I’ll cut your f------ head off kiker.” The term “kike” has long been used as an anti-Semitic slur aimed at Jews.

Neither Victim 1 nor his wife, Victim 2, knew the identity of the person (Harris) calling Victim 1 with these threatening and harassing calls and voicemails.  Nor did they know where the calls were coming from because Harris concealed her phone number using the *67 feature. However, all of these calls originated from the Riverside, California area, where Harris lived at the time, and were received by Victim 1’s phone in the Southern District of Florida.

Yesterday’s sentencing hearing and related court filings referenced additional information regarding Harris’ criminal conduct. As was addressed in court, for over four years, Harris harassed and threatened three victims by making over two-hundred and forty calls to Victim 1, leaving messages and engaging in conversations where she unleashed anti-Semitic hate and direct threats against Victim 1, his family, and Jews in general. In these calls and voicemails, Harris made incessant references to the congregants murdered in the October 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In these calls and voicemails Harris repeatedly referred to Victim 3 by their first name, in anti-Semitic and violent terms. Harris also made vile references to Anne Frank being murdered by the Nazis, Jews going back to Auschwitz, and in one voicemail, played for the Court at the sentencing hearing, she repeatedly screamed “Seig Heil, Kill Kikers” over and over before hanging up.

Harris’ four-year onslaught of harassment and threats of the victims was compounded by the fact that until July 2018, Victim 1 had been the Executive Director of the Tree of Life for over 20 years, while his wife, Victim 2, and her adult child, Victim 3, were all long-time members of, and closely associated with, the Tree of Life. 

During the course of her calls, Harris blocked her phone number from being detected by Victim 1’s caller identification system, leaving the victims bereft of any knowledge of who the harasser was or where the person might be, putting them in constant fear for their lives until Harris’s arrest in March 2023. In addition, on the same day in February 2019 that Harris began her calls to Victim 1, she also began calling the Tree of Life leaving virtually identical hate-filled anti-Semitic messages referencing the deaths of the elderly worshippers. 

The FBI's Miami Area Corruption Task Force, which also investigates civil rights violations, investigated the case. FBI Pittsburgh, FBI Los Angeles Riverside Resident Agency, and the Riverside Police Department in California, provided invaluable assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward N. Stamm and Nardia Haye prosecuted the case, which was indicted by Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry C. Wallace, Jr.

In Sept. 2022, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland started the United Against Hate program to convene local forums that connect community groups to federal, state, and local law enforcement to increase community understanding and reporting of hate crimes; build trust between law enforcement and communities; and create and strengthen alliances between law enforcement and other government partners and community groups to combat unlawful acts of hate. The United Against Hate program represents a “whole of government” approach to combating hate crimes. To learn more visit and

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, FBI, and other South Florida law enforcement partners are United Against Hate. The on-going collective mission is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute threats and hate crimes through education, outreach, and the justice system. The U.S. Attorney’s Office Hate Crimes Public Service Announcement (PSA) can be viewed at You can learn more about the Southern District of Florida’s prevention and enforcement efforts by visiting

If you have information about a possible threat or believe you are a victim of or a witness to a hate crime, contact your local law enforcement agency (911), then the FBI at or 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225- 5324).

You may find a copy of this press release (and any updates) on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at or at, under case number 23-cr-60050. 



Public Affairs Unit

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Southern District of Florida

Updated May 24, 2024

Civil Rights