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.”
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, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.
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-partner’s life” and cause her distress.
Prosecutors said Thompson’s emails to the woman’s employer claimed she had broken the law, among other things.
They said Thompson sometimes used his girlfriend’s name while making threats against Jewish community centers, schools or other facilities. One message claimed he had placed two bombs in a Jewish school and was “eager for Jewish Newtown,” a reference to the 2012 school massacre in Connecticut, prosecutors said.
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.”