Robert Fehring, a retired Bellport high school teacher, band director and track coach is now facing up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to mailing threatening letters through the U.S. Postal service. Newsday's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Anthony Florio; Photo Credit: James Carbone; Sweezey Photography

A Bayport man charged with sending dozens of hate-filled letters to LGBTQ organizations and Long Island business leaders over eight years pleaded guilty Wednesday to mailing threatening communications through the United States Postal Service.

Robert Fehring, 74, a retired Bellport High School teacher, band director and track coach, acknowledged in federal court in Central Islip that he sent dozens of the threatening letters to LGBTQ community leaders between June 2013 and September 2021. He also sent letters, some threatening violence to chamber of commerce officials in Sayville and Patchogue who provided support to Pride events, according to prosecutors.

"You think twice about starting your car," said David Klimnick, president and CEO of the Hauppauge-based LGBT Center, who received at least a dozen menacing letters from Fehring. "You think twice about getting the mail. You think twice about putting out the garbage. And this should not be taken lightly. It should not be taken lately at all and this person needs to go to jail and stay there hopefully for the remainder of his life where maybe he can get some help."

In a June 9 letter, Fehring threatened to use a high-powered rifle if Kilmnick showed up at Long Island Pride Festival in Eisenhower Park.

Prosecutors also said Fehring sent threatening letters to officials with the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce for their support of LGBTQ organizations and events. A 2019 letter warned a member of the Patchogue Chamber of Commerce that ambulances and a large police presence would be needed if the organization allowed an LGBTQ event to proceed as planned, prosecutors said.

In court papers, an FBI agent said Fehring had expressed animosity toward the LGBTQ community, saying "there is a sickening overdose of that stuff being shoved down everybody’s face on the paper, on the TV and all over the place."

Fehring, free on $100,00 bond, is scheduled for sentencing on June 17. He declined to comment after Wednesday’s hearing.

"Mr. Fehring is relieved to have completed this phase of the process and will now prepare himself for the final stage," said Fehring’s attorney, Glenn Obedin of Central Islip.

Reported hate crimes and incidents jumped 56% in 2021, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. There were 89 — 23 hate crimes and 62 incidents — last year. In 2020, there were 57 — seven hate crimes and 50 incidents. An incident is considered motivated by bias but may not be unlawful while a hate crime is an offense motivated by race, religion, sexual preference or other factors, the law says.

No hate crimes or incidents were reported in January, Suffolk police said, and data for February was not available. Nassau police statistics were also not available.

Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce president Eileen Tyznar said she and other board members had received numerous hate-filled letters threatening violence. She said she has been living in fear for years.

"You can have your freedom of speech. You can have your views. But once you cross a line where people’s lives are threatened or people feel threatened or harassed or intimidated, that can’t be allowed. It went to a point that was so extreme. It shows me there are a lot of people who are out there who are mentally ill," Tyznar said.

Fehring, free on $100,00 bond, is scheduled for sentencing on June 17. He declined to comment after Wednesday’s hearing.

"Mr. Fehring is relieved to have completed this phase of the process and will now prepare himself for the final stage," said Fehring’s attorney, Glenn Obedin of Central Islip.

Fehring was also charged with fourth-degree larceny as a hate crime and fourth-degree criminal mischief as a hate crime by Suffolk County prosecutors, who said Fehring stole 21 Pride flags and damaged flag brackets that had been installed by the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce in July.

He pleaded not guilty to those charges in December and is scheduled to return to court on March 2 in that case.

With Shari Einhorn

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