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Smithtown man gets 18 months in prison for threatening to kill two U.S. senators

Ronald DeRisi, 75, of Smithtown, was sentenced Monday

Ronald DeRisi, 75, of Smithtown, was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison for threatening to kill two U.S. senators. Credit: SCPD

A Smithtown man was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday for threatening to kill two U.S. senators who supported the nomination last year of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ronald DeRisi, 75, left more than 12 threatening voicemails at the offices of the two senators in September and October during the Senate debate on the Kavanaugh nomination, according to officials. 

The two senators were Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) according to sources familiar with the case.

The senators have not been named in court documents. Federal complaints do not usually name victims.

Before the sentence was imposed, an obviously distraught DeRisi, crying and struggling to complete his prepared remarks, admitted his crimes.

“I take full responsibility for what I did. I’m ashamed for what I did for my family, my friends….I never intended to hurt someone….All I ask, your honor…send me to a place where they can take away the pain,” he said.

DeRisi was referring to the continuing pain he says he feels from three unsuccessful back operations. Defense attorneys have said the pain was partly to blame for driving DeRisi to make the threats.     

At the end of the sentencing, DeRisi cried out, “I don’t want to be in pain [any] more.”

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco told DeRisi that, in consultation with the defense and prosecution, he would recommend a prison where DeRisi could get the treatment he sought.    

In imposing the sentence, the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines, Bianco disagreed with both DeRisi’s defense attorney, Martin Geduldig, of Plainview, and federal probation officials, who had recommended a sentence of time already served.

Their recommendations would have meant that DeRisi would have had to serve only the eight months he was held without bail since his arrest in October of 2018.

They had cited DeRisi’s “physical infirmity"— referring to his back problems — and his inability to carry out the threats.

DeRisi appeared in court in a wheelchair, and Geduldig said his client’s physical health had so deteriorated recently that he requires its use. He said his client had mental problems as well.

Bianco agreed with Eastern District federal prosecutor Justina Geraci, who said in court papers that DeRisi had a history of similar conduct dating back 35 years, including five prior convictions for harassment, most of which also involved making threatening phone calls.

In one case, at the time of DeRisi’s arrest in October 2018, a defense attorney said his client climbed a cellphone tower next to his home and hacked at cables with a samurai sword because he believed emanations from the tower had caused his wife’s cancer,

Bianco disagreed, however, with the prosecutor that DeRisi should get a greater sentence because he had an intent to carry out the threats to the senators. The judge noted his physical condition, and the fact DeRisi had taken no action to further his threats, such as traveling to where one of the senators was located.

Nevertheless, the judge said the prison sentence was required because of the fear that DeRisi’s threats instilled by the calls, his repeated similar actions, the threat to undermine democratic decision-making with violence, and the need to send a message to others who might want to take similar action.

Bianco said, though, that he was surprised the guidelines called for only up to 18 months' imprisonment.

When DeRisi was arrested in October 2018, a federal complaint said that in one of the messages, DeRisi said that he had a "present" for "the senator": "It's a 9-millimeter. Side of your [expletive] ... skull ... Yeah Kavanaugh - I don't think so."

In another message left on a senator’s phone, according to officials, DeRisi said: “Listen…don’t you know the guy’s a sex offender? How could you not know that?...I’m gonna get you.”

Capitol Hill police investigated the telephone threats to the senators and, aided by the FBI and Suffolk police, arrested DeRisi. In  his home, investigators said, they found the prepaid cellphone used to make the threatening calls, as well as ammunition.

Geduldig said afterward: “It’s a very sad case. Hopefully, he’ll get the treatment he needs."

Geraci declined to comment.

In a statement, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said: “Our political process allows for vigorous debate, but not destruction. Threatening to harm or kill elected officials because one disagrees with their public positions goes far beyond the scope of the First Amendment and will not be tolerated."

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