TAMPA — A 45-year-old Pasco County man on Friday pleaded guilty to a hate crime in U.S. District Court for his role in a burning a cross in a black neighbor's yard on Halloween night in 2012.
The U.S. Attorney's Office announced that Thomas Herris Sigler III pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with others to threaten, intimidate and interfere with an interracial couple's enjoyment of their housing rights. No sentencing details were released.
"No one should be threatened or intimidated in his home because of his race, color or creed," U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said in a statement. "It is sad that crosses are being burned in front yards in the 21st century. Acts of hatred such as this simply cannot be tolerated under law."
On Oct. 31, 2012, Sigler and two other men, Pascual Carlos Pietri and William A. Dennis, attended a party at a neighbor's house, authorities said. That's where several Seward Drive residents decided to burn a cross in the front yard of the couple to intimidate them and force them to move from the residence, authorities said.
Using wood and tools from the party host, Sigler and the men constructed a wooden cross and poured gasoline on it. The trio then carried the cross to the victims' front yard, leaned it against their mailbox and set the cross on fire, authorities said.
"The defendant threatened and intimidated a couple in their home and neighborhood, denying them of the simple ability to feel safe where they lived, on account of race," acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler said of Sigler.
In March 2016, Pietri, pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced to 37 months behind bars. Dennis was also charged for his role in the hate crime. The FBI investigated the case.
Bentley's announcement comes as reports of hate crimes are on the rise across the United States.
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente