A former University of St. Thomas student who said anxiety to meet his parents' high academic expectations motivated him to call in bomb threats on campus was sentenced to one year in federal prison Tuesday.
Raymond G. Persaud, then a student at the St. Paul-based Catholic school, reported explosives on campus on three occasions in 2019, resulting in classes being canceled and final exams postponed. Persaud pleaded guilty in Minnesota U.S. District Court last year to threatening to use explosives to damage or destroy buildings.
Federal Judge Eric C. Tostrud denied the defense's request for probation. Though Persaud planted no real bombs, Tostrud said, "the St. Thomas community didn't know it was a hoax," and the fact that Persaud called in multiple threats shows the crime was not impulsive. "Every call presented an opportunity to stop," he said.
But the judge also prescribed lower than the year and a half imprisonment federal sentencing guidelines call for and prosecutors requested, citing Persaud's virtually nonexistent criminal history, genuine remorse for his crimes and model citizenship under release since being charged.
"I've done a very bad thing and I'm ready to accept the consequence," Persaud, 22, of Blaine, told the court Tuesday. "The Ray Persaud who called in these threats is someone I don't recognize."
Persaud was charged with calling in bomb threats in April, August and September of 2019, the first resulting in closing of the entire campus, the others leading to the evacuation of several buildings. He used an app that made it harder to track his location. On one occasion he called four times in a morning, changing the location and number of bombs to create maximum confusion, according to court documents.
"Mr. Persaud caused great fear and panic among his fellow students, as well as St. Thomas faculty and staff," St. Thomas leadership said in a victim impact statement. "And he did so three times in six months. Classes were canceled, resources were diverted, law enforcement descended onto campus. We feared for the lives of our students and colleagues."
Persaud is a first-generation immigrant. In court records, his parents said they came to the United States "motivated by poverty and inspired by the promises of a new life." Persaud was the first in his family to attend college, and his strict parents "always expected perfection," the defense said in documents pleading for leniency.
When he failed to meet the high standard, the "pressure and his perceived academic failures caused anxiety and depression, which contributed to his misguided conclusion that ensuring the cancellation of classes was the only way he could get the time he needed to catch up on class work and improve his grades."
Persaud has since been diagnosed with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.
"There's no other way to describe this case except as an anomaly," Frederic Bruno, Persaud's attorney, said in court Tuesday. "The defense is offering no excuses for the behavior of Mr. Persaud. An explanation, maybe, but it doesn't amount to an excuse. We acknowledge that."
Bruno said his client is "a young man of color with a felony conviction for something that looks like a terroristic offense," and will wear a "scarlet letter" that will irreparably harm his future. "When my client called in these hoaxes, he basically called in the rest of his life as he knows it," said Bruno.
Prosecutors deflected the explanation, saying Persaud committed the crimes deliberately, using a higher-than-average level of technological sophistication and was "motivated only by anxiety that he had not done his homework."
"These were three times that Mr. Persaud, for no better reason than he was unprepared for his college classes, inflicted fear bordering on terror on the St. Thomas community," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty.
Docherty said most people who come through the criminal justice system grew up under worse conditions than parents with high expectations. "It is time … to let Mr. Persaud's parents off the hook."
Docherty said the academic-pressure excuse also didn't explain why Persaud played "cat-and-mouse" with the college's security.
Judge Tostrud recommended Persaud be placed in a prison in Minnesota to remain close to his family. He ordered him to pay $66,629 in restitution. Persaud must report to prison in April.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036