A Biddeford man has been sentenced to 10 years in a case that tested the nation’s anti-discrimination laws for the first time in Maine.
Maurice Diggins, who is white, was motivated by racial prejudice in two assaults against Black men in Biddeford and Portland in April 2018, which he committed with his 29-year-old nephew, Dusty Leo. The victims suffered broken jaws.
During Diggins’ sentencing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen said the crimes were “among the most serious I have seen,” the Portland Press Herald reported.
“You caused damage to the entire minority community,” Torresen said. “This type of offense has an emotional toll and deeply affects [the victims’] sense of security and safety. And you also damaged the larger community. That such bigotry and violence could be found within Portland and Biddeford city limits damaged the reputation of those communities as well.”
Speaking on a recorded jail telephone line after his arrest, Diggins predicted he would be acquitted by a jury in a predominantly white state like Maine.
“The Maine people want to keep the streets safe,” Diggins told his wife on the call. “Listen to Gov. LePage — [black men are] up here impregnating our women and selling our kids drugs. He’s the racist, not me.”
The assaults occurred in the early morning of April 15, 2018, when Diggins and Leo coordinated attacks on the Black men without provocation, shouting racial slurs at each of them. The victims required emergency surgery which left their mouths wired shut for a month and caused them to miss work.
Testimony established that Diggins was known to have tattoos of several racist symbols used by Nazis including multiple swastikas, an “SS bolt” symbol and a 14-word phrase that has become a type of slogan in white nationalist movements.
The prosecution set out to prove that Diggins “knowingly and unlawfully” caused harm and that the assaults were racially motivated beyond reasonable doubt.
One victim, a Biddeford resident, told the jury that he “probably would have lost his life” had he not escaped.
Leo pleaded guilty on February 25, admitting that he conspired to commit hate crimes and that he committed the hate crime against the Biddeford victim.
Both cases mark the first time the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Federal Hate Crimes Act has led to a conviction in Maine since it was adopted in 2009.
Leo awaits sentencing, the Press Herald reported.