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Man pleads not guilty to threatening to assassinate judge overseeing Flynn case

Michael Flynn, seen in 2017.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

By SPENCER S. HSU | The Washington Post | Published: October 20, 2020

WASHINGTON — A New York man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to threatening to assassinate a federal judge overseeing the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Frank Caporusso, 52, was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Michael Harvey of Washington, who said he would decide Wednesday whether to order the defendant to remain in custody pending trial.

Caporusso, an electronic-components salesman, was indicted on Aug. 26 on one count of threatening to assault and murder a federal judge to influence the performance of his official duties and one count of making an interstate threat. The two federal felony charges carry statutory maximum penalties of 10 years and five years in prison.

According to court documents unsealed Sept. 15, Caporusso used his cellphone to call a judge’s chambers in May, leaving the message, “We are professionals. We are trained military people. We will be on rooftops. You will not be safe. A hot piece of lead will cut through your skull.”

In an Aug. 31 court filing seeking Caporusso’s detention, U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn wrote that the message continued, “You bastard. You will be killed, and I don’t give a f---k who you are. Back out of this bulls---t before it’s too late, or we’ll start cutting down your staff. This is not a threat. This is a promise.”

Court filings did not name the judge, but they said the threats in context with other evidence appeared to relate to the judge’s presiding over a pending criminal case.

Several people familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is still pending, confirmed that the judge was U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington.

The message was left about 8:24 p.m. on May 14, one day after Sullivan asked a former federal judge in New York to oppose the Justice Department’s request to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about discussing U.S. sanctions with Russia’s ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.

At Tuesday’s arraignment, Caporusso’s attorney, David Benowitz, argued for pretrial release, stressing that there was no evidence of any conspiracy, plot or actions taken by his client.

“There’s been no evidence found of any sort of plot, any sort of plan, or any sort of agreement or conspiracy to carry out violence as implied in the voice mail,” Benowitz said.

Caporusso has no criminal history, has been employed 10 years for the same company, has “a very stable family structure,” and filed character references from friends stating that he was “a great father” and “a great husband,” Benowitz said.

Benowitz also noted that more than three months lapsed between the time authorities first interviewed Caporusso on May 20 and arrested him on Aug. 26, belying claims of his dangerousness or risk of flight.

“I can’t imagine in this type of case, where the government is alleging there is a danger, that it takes them that long to get cellphone data,” Benowitz said. “Particularly after they identified Caporusso as a suspect in six days. That just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

In a pair of court filings seeking Caporusso’s continued detention, assistant U.S. attorneys Robert Pollack of Brooklyn and Rachel Fletcher of Washington argued that Caporusso “established his willingness to threaten extraordinary violence with graphic specificity in order to thwart the operation of justice contrary to the defendant’s wishes.”

They called his suspected conduct “unspeakably extreme and clearly calculated to intimidate a judge and those who work for him by putting them in fear of death.”

They noted indications that Caporusso sought to mask his identity and lied to officers.

“In light of the very real and persistent danger of violence against the federal judiciary and others involved in the criminal justice system, such extraordinary conduct must be treated with the greatest seriousness,” prosecutors said.

In the detention memo, prosecutors said a caller using a number registered to Caporusso since 2003 dialed the judge’s chambers several times on May 14 and May 15, including a call whose time and duration aligned with the message that was recorded. Cellphone site-location data show the calls on May 14 appear to have been placed from Caporusso’s home, and that he was sending text messages about the same time, prosecutors said.

Call logs indicate that the dialer restricted the originating number only for calls going to the judge’s chamber, prosecutors said. The government also said a deputy U.S. marshal who interviewed Caporusso said his voice “was consistent with the voice of the individual who left the voice mail.”

Deputy Ian Kangas, who interviewed Caporusso at his home May 20 with a Suffolk County police officer, said the defendant denied calling any judges or making any threats, and said it is possible for people to “spoof” calls to make it appear like one was placed from a another number, according to prosecutors’ filings.

According to court filings and prosecutors, Kangas also said that Caporusso claimed he set his phone not to record calls on his call log because of his job and that “he could not risk anyone accessing information from his phone”

Asked whether phone records would show that he called the judge, Caporusso again denied it, saying it must have been someone else, prosecutors said. The defendant said he owned several rifles, six of which were shown in a photograph included in court filings, but said he had no plans to travel to Washington, prosecutors said.

Investigators reviewing social media accounts that appear to belong to Caporusso, primarily a Twitter account, said they appear to contain posts and images calling various politicians and celebrities “morons” and “sycophants,” prosecutors said.