A Port Richey man has pleaded guilty to a charge in connection with burning a cross in the front yard of an interracial couple, the Department of Justice announced Friday.
Thomas H. Sigler III, 45, entered the plea to one count of conspiring with others to threaten, intimidate and interfere with an interracial couple’s housing rights in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Citing court documents, the DOJ release said that an interracial couple moved into to a predominately white community on Seward Drive in Port Richey where Sigler lived in 2012. Sigler “harassed the African-American neighbor with racial slurs and derogatory statements” and assaulted him, the release said.
At a party on Halloween night, Sigler and several other community residents decided to burn a cross in the interracial couple’s front yard, according to the DOJ, and the goal was to intimidate the couple and force them to move.
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Using materials from the party’s host, the group built a wooden cross, doused it with gasoline and carried it to the couple’s yard where they leaned it against the mailbox and set it ablaze, according to the DOJ.
Pascual C. Pietri, one of Sigler’s co-conspirators, pleaded guilty in 2015 to the same charge as Sigler and was sentenced to 37 months in prison on March 23, 2016, according to the DOJ. William A. Dennis, 56, of Pasco County, was also charged for a role in the incident. Sigler’s sentencing is pending.
“The defendant threatened and intimidated a couple in their home and neighborhood, denying them of the simple ability to feel safe where they lived, on account of race,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who engage in such violent acts.”