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New York man arrested for threatening to kill two US senators over backing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh

Key Points
  • New York resident Ronald DeRisi  was arrested Friday for allegedly threatening to murder and assault two U.S. senators over their support for the successful nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, federal authorties said.
  • In one voicemail , DeRisi allegedly warned one senator that he had a "present” for the lawmaker. “It’s a nine millimeter. Side of your … skull … Yeah, Kavanaugh – I don’t think so," DeRisi allegedly said.
  • The arrest comes two days after the husband of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said he received a letter that claimed to contain the deadly toxin ricin, which also mentioned her vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the high court.
Ronald Derisi was arrested for allegedly threatening to assault and murder two U.S. senators over their support for Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. (File photo).  
Source: Suffolk County Police

A New York man was arrested Friday morning for allegedly threatening to murder and assault two U.S. senators because of their support for the successful nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, federal authorties said.

The man, 74-year-old Ronald DeRisi of Smithtown, Long Island, phoned in his expletive-laden threats to the offices in the home states of the senators, according to a federal complaint lodged against him. The complaint did not identify the senators.

DeRisi previously pleaded guilty to a state charge of aggravated harassement, which was related to his repeatedly phoning a victim's home and office more than 15 times in 2015 to leave threatening messages.

The new complaint says that DeRisi, starting on Sept. 27, left more than 10 "threatening voice-messages" at the offices of the two senators regarding Kavanaugh's then-pending nomination.

The threats apparently were made to discourage the senators from supporting Kavanaugh "and/or as retaliation for having voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh" later, according to a statement by the United States Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case.

The complaint said DeRisi used a pre-paid cellphone to make the threatening calls from or around his home.

DeRisi's lawyer, Peter Brill, told CNBC that his client was diagnosed after his 2015 arrest with "cerebral atrophy which has led to progressive dementia."

"He's not a violent person, although his disease has led to an increased lack of impulse control," Brill said. "We know this story was scary to the people he called, but he's not a violent person and I'm just going to continue to hope that he gets th help that he needs."

The arrest comes two days after the husband of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said he received a threatening letter that referred to Collins' support for Kanvanaugh, and which claimed to be tainted with the deadly toxin ricin.

Tests showed there was no danger from the letter, but Collins' husband, Thomas Daffron, and the couple's Labrador retriever, Pepper, were quarantined before the test results. The person responsible for the letter to Daffron has not been apprehended.

In one message cited in the complaint unsealed in New York, DeRisi on Sept. 27 left a voice message that said he had a "present" for the first senator, saying, "It's a nine millimeter. Side of your ... skull.

"Yeah, Kavanaugh — I don't think so," DeRisi said, according to the complaint. On the same day, the complaint said, DeRisi left another message for the same senator, saying "If f----- Kavanaugh get's in, he's dead f------ meat!"

In an Oct. 6 call to the second senator, which was the same day Kavanaugh was confirmed, DeRisi said, "You better pray this guy don't get in."

"I'm gonna get you," DeRisi said in a follow-up message to the same senator, the complaint charges.

DeRisi was identified through phone records, voice exemplars and the debit card he used to buy the pre-paid cell phone, according to authorities.

After his arrest, United States Capitol Police, who led the investigation, executed a search warrant and seized the cell phone used to leave the threatening messages, prosecutors said.

"We and all those dedicated to the rule of law will not tolerate the use violence and threats of violence in attempts to prevail in political disputes," said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for New York's Eastern District.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 27, 2018. 
Tom Williams | Pool | Reuters

DeRisi is due to appear before a federal judge in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., on Friday afternoon. In addition to his prior arrest for making threatening calls in 2015, DeRisi also was charged in 2011 with felony tampering after allegedly cutting about a dozen cables at a cell tower construciton site, causing damages estimated at $100,000.

Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed to the Supreme Court in a 50-48 vote, almost exclusively along party lines, in the Senate on Oct. 6, and was sworn in as a justice hours later.

His nomination by President Donald Trump had suffered a nearly fatal blow in September, when a woman named Christine Blasey Ford accused him of trying to rape her in the early 1980s at a small get-together of several fellow high school students. Two other women soon after came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct in high school and in college at Yale.

Kavanaugh adamantly denied the allegations.

Before he was confirmed, and even before the sexual misconduct allegations emerged, Collins was seen as one of a handful of Republican senators who might vote against Kavanaugh.

But she later announced her intention to vote for him in a lengthy speech on the Senate floor. Collins said she believed Ford had been assaulted, but said she did not believe that Kavanaugh was the attacker.

Collins on Oct. 7 told the CBS News show "Face the Nation" that her vote for Kavanaugh was "a tough one."

"I have to do what I think is right. Over the years, the people of Maine have trusted me to exercise my best judgment. That's what I did in the case," Collins said.