Georgia Resident Convicted in the Southern District of Florida of Threatening Several Palm Beach County Locations
Preston Alexander McWaters, 25 of Athens, Georgia, pled guilty today before United States District Judge James I. Cohn, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to four counts of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce to injure another person, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 875(c), and two counts of conveying false and misleading information indicating that a bombing of a place of public use would take place, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1038(a)(1)(A) and (c).
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Lawrence Leon, Chief, Palm Beach County School District Police Department, made the announcement.
McWaters faces a statutory maximum of five years’ imprisonment on each count to which he pled guilty. He is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Cohn on September 23, 2016.
According to the factual proffer accompanying his plea, McWaters, over the course of several months in late 2015 and early 2016, sent numerous e-mails and other communications threatening to bomb various locations in Palm Beach County, including schools, a hospital, a business and the Palm Beach International Airport. McWaters also posted a number of threats to injure a woman who had previously obtained a protective order against him as well as to injure the family of a high school principal in Palm Beach County. McWaters used tools to prevent law enforcement from tracing the online threats back to him, and exerted substantial effort to implicate a romantic rival and, later, his rival’s then-girlfriend in an attempt to conceal his identity. The FBI ultimately was able to trace the threats back to McWaters, who was arrested in March 2016.
“Bomb threats present significant safety and security issues to both law enforcement and the general public,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement allies will take all necessary steps to ensure that people who use the internet or other means to threaten the physical structure of buildings or well-being of the American people will face serious consequences.”
“Threats like these bomb scares by Mr. McWater are serious crimes and warrant a serious response,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. "They frighten innocent people and waste valuable law enforcement resources, which could be better spent responding to actual crimes. These type of threats will be investigated thoroughly and vigorously by the FBI and our partners.”
Palm Beach County School District Police Chief Lawrence Leon stated, “I am truly appreciative of the partnership and assistance given to the Palm Beach County School District Police by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the U.S Attorney’s Office in this successful prosecution of this case. All threats to our schools, students, and staff are taken seriously and the Palm Beach County School District Police will take the appropriate actions to ensure that we are safe.”
Mr. Ferrer commended the outstanding investigative efforts of the FBI, Palm Beach County School District Police Department and the Jupiter Police Department. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the myriad of law enforcement partners in Florida and Georgia, including the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, the Jupiter Police Department, the West Palm Beach Police Department, the University of Georgia Police Department, the Clarke County Georgia Police Department, and the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Georgia, for their assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward Nucci, Karen Gilbert, and Adam Fels.