NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A jilted ex-boyfriend who once lived in New York is behind at least eight of the scores of threats made against Jewish Community Centers nationwide, plus a bomb threat to the Anti-Defamation League, in an effort to harass and vilify his former girlfriend, federal officials said Friday.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested Friday morning in his hometown of St. Louis where he now again lives. He completed a brief court appearance Friday afternoon, and was expected to eventually be transferred to New York for prosecution.
He was charged with cyberstalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, authorities said.
READ THE FULL COMPLAINT (pdf)
According to a federal complaint, Thompson dated the woman until last summer. When they broke up, he allegedly started emailing ugly accusations to her employer, a New York City housing and social services agency, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
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.
“Thompson made a number of threats against Jewish institutions using his ex-girlfriend’s name, as well as other threats in his own name,” said Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Anti-Defamation League received an email on Feb. 21 that said the woman was behind the bomb threats to JCCs and there’d be more the next day. On Feb. 22, the ADL headquarters in Midtown Manhattan received a phoned-in bomb threat.
He sent a note to the San Diego JCC, too, and wrote that the woman “hates Jewish people and is the head of a ring and put a bomb in the center to kill as many Jews asap,” authorities said.
Another email read, “[She], a social worker in NYC, has put a bomb in the Jewish Center in Dallas…she is behind the Jewish threats across the country.”
“Thompson’s alleged pattern of harassment not only involved the defamation of his female victim, but his threats intimidated an entire community,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr.
“Everyone deserves to be free from fear and discrimination based on religion, race, or ethnicity; that is fundamental to who we are as a nation,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Threats of violence targeting people and places based on religion or race whatever the motivation – are unacceptable, un-American, and criminal.”
“The defendant allegedly caused havoc, expending hundreds of hours of police and law enforcement resources to respond and investigate these threats,” said NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill. “We will continue to pursue those who peddle fear, making false claims about serious crimes.”
“We must not be indifferent to the rising tide of hate crimes we’re seeing in New York City and nationwide,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “When you attack someone because of who they are, how they worship or who they love, you are attacking our democracy.”
Bomb threats have been called in to nearly 100 Jewish institutions in 30 states and Canada since January. Just this past Monday, 20 bomb threats were called in to Jewish Community Centers in 12 separate states during the day – including multiple locations in New York and New Jersey.
The first wave of calls started Jan. 9. Thompson made threats in his name and in the woman’s name, and his first one was Jan. 28 to the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, authorities said.
Federal authorities say 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.
On his Twitter page, Thompson claimed to be the victim writing, “Know any good lawyers? Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name & wants me to be raped in jail.”
He also tweeted his alleged horror at anti-Semitic acts writing, “Another week, another round of threats against Jewish people. In the middle of the day, you know who’s at a JCC? Kids. KIDS.”
The feds consider Thompson a copycat and their investigation continues into the other threats, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
The JCC Association of North America said it was gratified by the arrest. “We trust that the perpetrators behind all of the threats will be swiftly identified and brought to justice.”
Authorities took evidence from Thompson’s family home in St. Louis, where his stepfather refused to comment.
“I don’t want to say nothing on his behalf because I don’t know,” the stepfather said.
University City, Missouri, police Lt. Fredrick Lemons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that detectives will question Thompson about the 154 headstones toppled last month at a Jewish cemetery in the St. Louis suburb. He declined to say whether Thompson was considered a suspect.
Thompson is a former New York City journalist who was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after he was accused of fabricating several quotes and creating fake email accounts to impersonate people, one of whom was the Intercept’s editor-in-chief, Betsy Reed.
One of the stories involved Dylann Roof, the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooter. Thompson had written that a cousin named Scott Roof claimed the white gunman was angry that a love interest chose a black man over him. A review showed there was no cousin by that name. The story was retracted.
The Intercept wrote Friday it was “horrified” to learn a former employee was arrested in the case.
“These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted. We have no information about the charges against Thompson other than what is included in the criminal complaint,” The Intercept said in its statement. “Thompson worked for The Intercept from November 2014 to January 2016, when he was fired after we discovered that he had fabricated sources and quotes in his articles.”
The ADL said Friday that Thompson had been on its radar ever since he fabricated the story about Roof. According to ADL research, Thompson had also claimed that he wanted to dismantle the system of “racial supremacy and greedy capitalism that is stacked against us.” He said he was going to run for mayor of St. Louis last year as a Socialist to “fight back against Trumpian fascism and socio-economic terrorism.”
He created a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 for his election bid. He got $25, the ADL said.
“We are relieved and gratified that the FBI has made an arrest in these cases,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, head of the ADL. “We look forward to the quick resolution of the remaining open cases.”
While many have linked an increase in anti-Semitic acts to the election of President Donald Trump, this case shows the reality is more complicated – according to one Jewish leader.
“This trend began long before this election/ I do think this Election unleashed forces on the extreme left and the extreme right,” said Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. “In this case, the perpetrator probably came from the left.”
Despite the arrest, Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director, said the organization remains on high alert.
“Just because there’s been a break now in this particular case, no one can say that they can’t take this seriously now just because they have a person arrested,” Bernstein said. “There’s a lot of threats that have not been solved, every institution needs to maintain its diligence.”
As CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported, local leaders spoke out Friday against hate crimes – bogus or legitimate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has ordered increased police patrols at religious facilities and said the state attorney general’s office is offering a $10,000 reward for tips that lead to convictions in bias crime cases.
“Anyone in this state who commits that type of crime will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and sent to prison,” the governor said.
Christie was joined Monday at the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades by several other officials, including Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who said he has asked Homeland Security to double the money available for non-profit security.
“We learn again that anti-Semitism is not dead, but dormant and all too easily awoken,” Menendez said.
Meanwhile, as WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, calls have also mounted among New York politicians for the federal government to create a special task force to handle anti-Semitic hate crimes.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) has called on the Department of Justice to institute an anti-Semitism task force.
The NYPD said anti-Semitic hate crimes are up 94 percent this year. Overall in New York City, hate crimes are up 55 percent this year.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)