August 21, 2019
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York man who sent threatening emails to police asks to be released from custody

Kittery Police Department | BDN
Kittery Police Department | BDN
Austin Santoro

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — Following his guilty pleas for sending emails with threats to commit crimes at gunpoint, in one instance posing as Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Merner, Austin Santoro has petitioned a judge for his release from custody until he is sentenced for the crimes.

Santoro, 23, of 122 Cider Hill Road, York, Maine, pleaded guilty last month to a felony count of “transmitting threatening interstate communication” and a second felony count of identity theft.

One plea was his admission to using a foreign spoofing service to send emails to Portsmouth Police Department employees, which appeared to be from Merner, making threats of gunpoint violence. The second plea alleges he did the same thing to employees at York County Community College.

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Santoro’s attorney J. Hilary Billings on Tuesday filed a memo with the U.S. District Court of Maine arguing his client is in need of mental health treatment and arrangements have been made for that to commence upon his release from jail.

Billings wrote to the court that Santoro has already spent nine months in jail, is not expected to be sentenced for another three months and it’s possible the time he already served, “is sufficient to serve the purposes of imprisonment as part of a criminal sentence.”

Santoro’s lawyer also argues his client’s guilty pleas were not to crimes of violence, for the purposes of the Bail Reform Act, under which he seeks per-sentencing release.

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Billings wrote that crimes of violence under the act are defined as those for which 10 or more years of prison is prescribed.

He also argues, “There is no way that the forwarding of an electronic communication, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff filed a counter memo arguing, “Santoro’s guilty plea to a crime of violence triggers the mandatory detention,” which requires him to prove there are exceptional reasons why he should not be held until sentencing.

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The prosecutor disputes the defense attorney’s interpretation of the Bail Reform Act arguing detention applies only to convictions with 10-year or more prison sentences. Wolff cites an amendment pertaining to terrorists and notes, “It would make little sense for Congress to narrow the type of offenses for which detention could be sought in a statute aimed at detaining accused terrorists.”

Wolff also said he takes no position about whether there are exceptional circumstances under which Santoro should be released before he’s sentenced and defers that decision to the court.

Judge D. Brock Hornby is presiding over the case and has not yet issued a ruling.


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