San Francisco man in court for allegedly threatening Pelosi over health care

By Jason Dearen, AP
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Calif. man in court for alleged Pelosi threats

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco man accused of threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in phone calls cried during his first court appearance, wearing a T-shirt and khakis and appearing disheveled.

Forty-eight-year-old Gregory Lee Giusti appeared Thursday morning before a federal magistrate, who read the charges of making obscene, threatening or harassing phone calls to a member of Congress.

Giusti is accused of making the calls because of anger over health care reform.

The magistrate ordered the U.S. Attorney’s Office to interview Giusti to see if he is mentally competent enough to be released to a halfway house, or if he should continue to be detained.

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

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A California man angry about health care reform was due in federal court Thursday after being arrested for allegedly making threatening phone calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including at least one call in which he got through and spoke to her directly, officials said.

Gregory Lee Giusti, 48, was arrested Wednesday at his San Francisco home, said Joseph Schadler, spokesman for the FBI’s San Francisco office. Schadler would not disclose the charges against Giusti, saying they were under seal until his first appearance before a federal magistrate, scheduled for Thursday morning. Schadler could not say if Giusti had retained an attorney.

The threats involving Pelosi drew increased attention on the verbal attacks and harrassing calls that other Democratic legislators have faced over their support of the health care overhaul. The arrest came a day after a Washington state man was arrested for allegedly leaving threatening voicemails for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Several federal officials said Giusti made dozens of calls to Pelosi’s homes in California and Washington, as well as to her husband’s business office. They said he recited her home address and said if she wanted to see it again, she would not support the health care overhaul bill that since has been enacted.

One official said the man is believed to have spoken directly with Pelosi at least once.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Giusti has been in trouble previously for making threats. In 2004, he pleaded no contest in San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, to a felony charge of making criminal threats and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years of supervised probation.

The 2004 arrest occurred on a commuter train after Giusti was kicked off for not paying his fare, Steve Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, said. Giusti became enraged, started screaming and threatened to kill the conductor, who called in the sheriff, Wagstaffe said.

Guisti also repeatedly threatened a San Francisco church, the lawyer for the Hamilton Square Baptist Church said.

Giusti was told to leave in the church 2005 after his behavior scared others, John Jones, the attorney who sued to stop Giusti last year, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

When federal agents came to the church three weeks ago they were able to link Giusti to calls made to the church to a phone number used to make calls to Pelosi, according to Jones.

A call to the FBI seeking comment about the alleged threats to the church was not immediately returned late Wednesday.

A statement from Pelosi’s spokesman Wednesday praised the efforts of law enforcement and said the House Speaker would have no further comment “at this time.”

On Tuesday, Pelosi told reporters in San Francisco that “people have been active in expressing their disagreement.” Sometimes those expressions have risen “to the level of threats or violence,” she said, explaining that she was not allowed to comment on her own situation.

Rose Riggs, a neighbor of Giusti in a public housing complex in the city’s Tenderloin district, said she saw two plainclothes and two uniformed officers take him away in zip-tie cuffs. Riggs, 62, said Giusti was known for engaging in heated political debates with others in the building.

“He was not one of my favorite people. He had a real attitude problem,” she said.

Neighbor Greg Little, 53, said he also saw officers take Giusti away.

“He was real quiet when they took him out. He wasn’t combative,” Little said.

Sister Lorna Walsh, community operations manager of the Mercy Housing complex where Giusti lives, said he had lived in the subsidized housing for almost 10 years. She would not comment further.

On Tuesday, federal authorities in Washington state announced charges against Charles Alan Wilson, 63, for allegedly made threatening calls to Murray. Officials said he left voicemails for the senator, including ones in which he’s accused of saying “there’s a target on your back now” and “it only takes one piece of lead.”

Charges also have been filed against a Philadelphia man who allegedly made a YouTube video threatening Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Barrett contributed to this report from Washington. Marcus Wohlsen and Juliana Barbassa in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

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