A Smithtown man was held without bail and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation Friday after he was charged with sending death threats to two key United States senators who supported Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, officials said.
Ronald DeRisi, 74, was charged in a complaint with threatening “to murder and assault two United States senators in retaliation for their support of the nomination and confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.”
The senators were not identified, and federal complaints or indictments do not usually name victims of alleged crimes.
Eastern District United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement: “Representative democracy cannot work if elected officials are threatened with death for simply doing their job … the First Amendment — the pinnacle of American achievement — protects debate, disagreement and dissent, not death threats.”
DeRisi’s attorney, Peter Brill, of Hauppauge, argued in federal court in Central Islip that his client was essentially a loudmouth with diminished mental capacity who was not capable of physically harming anyone. Brill asked that his client be released to home confinement while the case proceeded.
But Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Justina Geraci said investigators found indications DeRisi was capable of plotting a serious scheme, including ammunition found in his home when he was arrested, and that he used a burner phone -- paid for by a credit card not purchased in his name -- to make the threatening phone calls.
Geraci also said DeRisi used a telephone to call Kavanaugh. But she did not reveal the nature of those calls or how many were made. In addition, Geraci said a calendar in DeRisi’s home had the name of a third senator written on it. She also did not name that senator, and said investigators did not know what the listing of that name meant.
During the proceedings, DeRisi appeared to understand the questions put to him by presiding Magistrate Gary Brown, and clearly answered them.
Officials said in the complaint that, starting Sept. 27, DeRisi left more than 10 threatening messages on the phones of the two senators.
One message, left for the person identified as Senator-1, said the caller had a “present” for "the senator.” “It’s a nine-millimeter. Side of your (expletive) … skull … Yeah Kavanaugh -- I don’t think so.”
A message left on Senator-2’s phone said: “Listen ... don’t you know the guy’s a sex offender? How could you not know that … I’m gonna get you.”
Before the arraignment, Brill said he could understand how somebody getting a threatening phone call allegedly from his client would be shaken. But he said his client “is not a physical threat to anyone.” Brill said he has been representing DeRisi for years. His client, he said, suffers from what, in laymen’s terms, would be called progressive “dementia caused by physical changes in his brain.”
Brill said his client has had several brushes with the law in the past few years. In a case in Nassau, he said DeRisi threatened the lawyer for his homeowners association in a dispute over resident fees. In a second, in Suffolk, Brill said DeRisi, armed with a samurai sword, climbed a cellphone tower next to his home and hacked at cables there, believing the installation had caused his wife to get cancer. But Brill said the cases were resolved without a felony conviction.
Afterward, Brill stood by what he originally said before the hearing.
"My client is not a danger to anyone, other than being a belligerent, angry person," Brill said.
Geraci declined to comment afterward.