Local News

Raleigh man pleads guilty to federal hate crimes

Posted September 30, 2008 6:59 p.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2008 8:56 p.m. EDT

A Raleigh man pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to charges that he sent threatening e-mails last year to Hispanic and Islamic advocacy groups.

In U.S. District Court, Christopher Szaz said he was "extremely intoxicated" when he threatened the National Council of La Raza with racial slurs and threats on their employees' lives.

Szaz, 42, a Web designer, said the e-mails – one on July 27, 2007, to the group and an earlier one with similar threats on June 8, 2007, to the Council on American-Islamic Relations – were not in his nature.

He could face 15-21 months in prison on the misdemeanor counts.

An admitted alcoholic with no prior record, Szaz apologized for what federal prosecutors called the "shockingly graphic and personal" nature of the note and asked the judge for leniency.

Judge James Gates said he needed more time to review the case and continued sentencing until Wednesday.

La Raza, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union were among minority advocacy groups gathered outside the federal courthouse in Raleigh to call on the court to make a larger statement to others who commit hate crimes.

No groups representing the Muslim community were present Tuesday.

"The message here should be that this is not to be tolerated," said Tony Asion, executive director of El Pueblo, a North Carolina-based Latino advocacy group.

Andrea Bazán, national board chairman of La Raza and president of the Triangle Community Foundation, said the group has spent more than $100,000 to increase its security because of more and more threats of violence toward Hispanics, regardless of whether they are legal.

The group calls the Szaz case the "result of a pattern and practice of hate speach and harassment unleashed in the debate over immigration reform."

"Civil discourse is not a cloak or disguise for hate," said Janet Murguía, national president and chief executive officer of La Raza. "Words have consequences, and hateful words have hateful consequences.