NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former journalist pleaded guilty on Tuesday to cyberstalking and making fake bomb threats, admitting he threatened Jewish organizations and made “false and salacious” allegations about an ex-girlfriend to her employer to disrupt her life.
“For this, I deeply apologize,” said Juan Thompson, who has remained incarcerated since his March arrest amid a spike in threats across the continent.
In a release, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said Thompson, of St. Louis, fueled “fear and distress” early this year with fake bomb threats to more than a dozen Jewish community centers and organizations nationwide.
“Thompson made these threats as part of a cruel campaign to cyberstalk a victim with whom he previously had a relationship,” Kim said. “Thompson’s threats not only inflicted emotional distress on his victim but also harmed Jewish communities around the country.”
Thompson was arrested in March in St. Louis and was charged in connection with a bomb threat to the ADL’s national headquarters last month. Prosecutors said he made threats to at least eight Jewish community centers, schools or other facilities.
From January to March, more than 150 bomb threats were reported against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Authorities say an 18-year-old Israeli-American Jewish hacker arrested in Israel in March was believed responsible for most of those threats along with a wave of more than 2,000 threats against U.S. Jewish centers, airports, malls, police stations and other institutions.
Thompson, 32, told U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel in Manhattan he was “slightly nervous” as he pleaded guilty to charges that each carry a potential penalty of five years in prison. He agreed not to appeal any sentence at or below 46 months, nearly four years, in prison.
Thompson said he sent emails and faxes to his ex-girlfriend’s employer after she ended their relationship last summer and later made bomb threats, claiming his ex-girlfriend had planted bombs at several local community centers in New York and other states.
“I believed that these false threats would be taken seriously by the community centers and place them in fear for their safety,” he said.
He said he committed the crimes “to disrupt my ex-romantic partner’s life” and cause her distress.
The complaint against Thompson said he allegedly started emailing ugly accusations to his ex-girlfriend’s employer, a New York City housing and social services agency.
Her boss received an email purporting to be from a national news organization saying that she’d been pulled over for drunken driving, officials said. She received an anonymous email with nude photos of herself and a threat to release them to the public, the complaint said. Her boss got a note saying she had a sexually transmitted disease. The company got anonymous faxes saying she was anti-Semitic. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got a note saying the woman watched child porn.
The harassment got worse from there when Thompson started making threats against Jewish institutions in her name to portray her as an anti-Semite, federal officials said.
Federal authorities said Thompson made up an email address to make it seem like the woman was sending threats in his name in an effort to frame him.
For example, officials said in early February a JCC in Manhattan received an email bomb threat that read, “Juan Thompson put two bombs in the office of the Jewish center today. He wants to create Jewish newtown tomorrow.”
“Newtown” is a reference to the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the lives of 26 educators and children.
The government collected evidence from about two dozen laptops, tablets and cellphones seized from Thompson’s home.
Thompson was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating story details.
His sentencing is set for Sept. 15.
In a statement after the plea, the Anti-Defamation League said his conduct “was inexcusable and stoked fears of anti-Semitism at a time when such incidents were on the rise.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)