TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Two Pasco County men were indicted for burning a wooden cross in the yard of their neighbor, according to the US Department of Justice.
The indictment unsealed Friday charged William A. Dennis, 55, of Spring Hill, and Thomas Herris Sigler, III, 45, of Land O’ Lakes, with “conspiracy to interfere with an interracial couple’s enjoyment of their constitutionally protected housing rights.” Dennis is also charged with making false statements to federal law enforcement officers, according to the DOJ statement.
Officials said that in 2012 Dennis and Sigler lived on Seward Drive in Port Richey. An interracial couple moved in next door to Sigler’s house. The men repeatedly made racial slurs and derogatory statements to the African-American neighbor. Soon it escalated to verbal and physical threats.
On Halloween night, Sigler, Dennis and several other neighbors gathered at a party and decided to burn a wooden cross in the couple’s yard. They constructed the wooden cross, poured flammable liquid on it, leaned it against the couple’s mailbox and set it on fire, according to DOJ.
“Hate-motivated crimes will not be tolerated in our community,” said U.S. Attorney Bentley. “This case underscores our commitment to prosecute those who commit crimes driven by hatred or intolerance.”
If convicted of these crimes, Dennis will face maximum 15 years in federal prison, and Sigler will do a maximum 10-year sentence.
Sigler has a criminal record in Florida. He has been arrested for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault, driving without a license and felony DUI. His last arrest in Pasco County was in 2013 on the charges of sexual battery or rape on a victim younger than 12 years old and kidnapping.
Pascual Carlos Pietri, 53, was also charged in this case. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with others to threaten, intimidate and interfere with an interracial couple’s enjoyment of their housing rights and was sentenced to 37 months in prison last June.
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