Federal prosecutors say Pelosi feared her family was in danger after threatening calls

By Jason Dearen, AP
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Prosecutors: Pelosi feared for family after calls

SAN FRANCISCO — The man charged with threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was so livid over the health care overhaul that he made at least 48 calls to her offices and homes, leading the Democrat to fear that her family might be in danger, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Gregory Lee Giusti, 48, of San Francisco cried and looked disheveled in a gray T-shirt and khakis as he appeared for the first time before Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman, who said Giusti may have bipolar disorder and should be receiving treatment.

Zimmerman initially refused a request by Giusti to be released to a halfway house, saying he would be able to walk away from such a facility.

Prosecutors said Giusti made at least four dozen calls to the San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offices of Pelosi between Feb. 6 and March 25.

Pelosi told the FBI the caller had used “extremely vulgar and crude language” on two occasions when she answered the phone at her Washington residence. She also thought her family might be in danger.

In one recorded call, Giusti said, “if you pass this freaking health care plan don’t bother coming back to California cause you ain’t gonna have a place to live,” according to a transcript of the message included in an amended complaint.

Officials said the caller often recited Pelosi’s home address and said if she wanted to see it again, she should not support the health care overhaul bill that since has been enacted.

Giusti left at least two recorded messages containing threats involving one of Pelosi’s residences in Northern California, according to the complaint.

The calls and messages spurred an investigation by U.S. Capitol Police, who found the caller was using a “Magic Jack” device registered to someone other than Giusti. The device allows users to make calls over the Internet, and choose the area code where the calls originate.

Police interviewed the man who held the Magic Jack account, who knew Giusti and led authorities to him.

Giusti initially denied making the calls but later told investigators he had phoned Pelosi about a half-dozen times, called her a witch and said he did not like her “pushing the health care bill down the people’s throats,” the complaint stated.

During Thursday’s hearing, the magistrate told the U.S. attorney’s office to interview Giusti further to determine if he was mentally competent enough to be released to a halfway house or if he should continue to be detained because he posed a threat.

A detention hearing was scheduled for Monday.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said Giusti had crossed the line between free speech and threats.

Giusti was charged with one count of making obscene, threatening or harassing phone calls to a member of Congress. No plea was entered, and Giusti did not speak, except to say and spell his name when asked. He was being held without bail.

Giusti sat in a jury box speaking with a federal public defender before the hearing. The magistrate appointed counsel for Giusti after determining he could not afford to hire a lawyer.

If convicted, Giusti could receive a two-year prison sentence, $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release.

During an interview in New York, Pelosi said she doesn’t know more than she did when she found out Wednesday about the arrest. She declined further comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Giusti has had legal troubles in the past because of threatening behavior.

In 2004 he was sentenced to a year in jail for a felony violation of threatening to kill a conductor on a commuter train, authorities said.

Last year, Hamilton Square Baptist Church in San Francisco sued Giusti, asking a court to order him to cease a campaign of harassment against people associated with the church, court documents show. The suit is pending.

Giusti also had a 1991 misdemeanor conviction for making telephone calls with the intent to annoy.

Associated Press Writer Laurie Kellman in New York and Associated Press Writer Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

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