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Federal indictment says men burned cross in black neighbor's yard

UPDATE: An incorrect photo of William A. Dennis appeared on a previous version of this story.

On Halloween night 2012, a group of neighbors in Port Richey gathered pieces of wood and hammered together a cross. They doused it in flammable liquids, then carried it down the street to the front yard of another neighbor, who was black. They leaned the cross against his mailbox, then set it ablaze.

Last month, two men accused of taking part in the hate-fueled spectacle were charged with federal hate crimes.

An indictment unsealed Friday lays out the cases against William A. Dennis, 55, and Thomas Herris Sigler III, 45, who each face charges of conspiracy stemming from allegations they violated their neighbor's constitutional rights to housing. Sigler also faces a single count of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer.

"Hate-motivated crimes will not be tolerated in our community," U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley said in a news release. "This case underscores our commitment to prosecute those who commit crimes driven by hatred or intolerance."

The cross burning, according to the indictment, marked the culmination in a series of racially motivated actions the men had directed toward the victim, who is identified in court documents by the initials "D.M." and his white girlfriend, identified by the initials "K.L."

Dennis and Sigler and two other neighbors, one of whom is already serving a federal prison sentence, repeatedly used racial slurs when talking to and about the couple, who lived near them on Seward Drive in Port Richey, the indictment states.

In September 2012, Sigler showed a handgun to another neighbor and referred to D.M. with a racial slur while proclaiming he was going to shoot him in the face, the indictment states. Weeks later, on Oct. 10, Sigler punched D.M. in the face.

After the cross burning, FBI agents questioned the men. Dennis claimed he had spent Halloween night with his sister, the indictment states. When he returned later, he said, another neighbor told him he had "missed all the action." In fact, the indictment alleges, Dennis had watched the cross burn from his own property.

Another man who participated in the cross burning, Pascual Carlos Pietri, 54, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and is now serving a federal prison sentence.

It was unclear why Dennis and Sigler are only now being charged.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

This story originally misidentified the location where a cross was burned in a man's front yard. The story has been updated to reflect that the incident happened in Port Richey.

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