When a man with an expressed hatred for Muslims holding public office goes before a New York federal judge and hears his sentence for threatening to kill U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, he will have a prominent Muslim politician on his side.
The Minnesota Democrat submitted a letter Tuesday to U.S. District Judge Frank Geraci asking that he show mercy and not give 55-year-old Patrick W. Carlineo Jr. a lengthy prison sentence or substantial fine for calling her Capitol Hill office earlier this year and threatening to shoot her in the head.
Carlineo pleaded guilty Monday in Rochester to threatening to assault and murder a United States official and being a felon in possession of firearms.
While Carlineo faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000, if the sentences on each count are to be served consecutively, the plea agreement between the prosecution and defense calls for a prison term of 12 to 18 months, followed by supervised release of one to three years, and a fine ranging from $5,500 to $55,000.
Even with the plea deal, Geraci has wide discretion in sentencing, limited only by the maximum terms set in the statute. He also has the option to spare Carlineo prison altogether, a possibility in light of Omar's stepping up for the man who wished her dead.
In her letter, Omar urged the judge "for a system of compassion to be applied" at sentencing on Feb. 14 for Carlineo, who remains free for now, other than during his 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. home curfew.
Omar sought not to downplay the seriousness of Carlineo's threat, pointing out in her letter that "as someone who fled a war zone [in Somalia], I know how destabilizing acts of political violence can be" and that "this was not just a threat against me as an individual — it was a threat against an entire religion, at a time of rising hate crimes against religious minorities in our country."
But Omar, who in recent months has received other death threats, appealed to the judge to show leniency.
"Punishing the defendant with a lengthy prison sentence or a burdensome financial fine would not rehabilitate him," she wrote to Geraci, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama. "It would not repair the harm he has caused. It would only increase his anger and resentment."
Instead, she told the judge, "We must teach the defendant love. For this reason, I do not believe the defendant would be served by a severe prison sentence or substantial financial fine and ask you to show compassion in your sentencing."
Carlineo's attorney, Sonya Zoghlin, said in response to Omar's letter: "We certainly agree with Congresswoman Omar's recommendation that he be treated with compassion, rather than retribution. She is absolutely correct that greater understanding and mutual respect is not furthered by incarceration."
Prosecutors say that Carlineo called Omar's office on March 21 and said, "Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she's a [expletive] terrorist. Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull. Back in the day, our forefathers would have put a bullet in her [expletive]."
The staff member also recalled that Carlineo said, "I'll put a bullet in her [expletive] skull." He also left his contact information with the staff member.
After receiving the call, the threat was referred to the U.S. Capitol Police, which began an investigation in coordination with the FBI.
Carlineo told an FBI agent eight days later that he was a patriot who loves President Donald Trump and hates radical Muslims in the government.
He added that he made the call in the belief that Omar, among the first Muslim women elected to Congress, supported Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and that her election was illegitimate.
"This prosecution highlights the fact that the rights secured in our Constitution carry with them certain responsibilities," U.S. Attorney James Kennedy said. "The First Amendment right to freedom of speech carries with it the responsibility that individuals not make threats to harm lawmakers simply because they may disagree with them."
About two weeks after the phone call, authorities determined that Carlineo illegally had a semiautomatic handgun, two semi-automatic rifles, one bolt-action rifle, two shotguns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition at his residence. His 1998 felony property damage conviction bars him from possessing a firearm.
Defense attorney Zoghlin described her client as passionate about his political beliefs and his right to express them.
"He has taken responsibility for using threatening and inappropriate language to express those beliefs in this instance," she said, adding that Carlineo never intended to harm Omar.