The FBI on Wednesday arrested a man with Boston and Dedham ties on charges that he threatened to harm an interracial couple via Facebook Messenger after the pair announced their engagement online.
Acting US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell’s office identified the defendant as Stephen M. DeBerardinis, 45. According to the indictment, Mendell’s office said, the couple’s ordeal began in December 2020 when they announced their engagement via Facebook and included photos of themselves. The victims are a white woman and a Black man, officials said.
DeBerardinis, prosecutors said, saw the photos and allegedly responded “on or about” Jan. 6 by sending a series of threatening messages to the couple. January 6th was the day former president Donald Trump’s backers stormed the US Capitol in an effort to block the certification of President Biden’s November election win.
According to prosecutors, DeBerardinis allegedly wrote to the couple, “EWWWWWWWW YOUR A . . .“ followed by slurs, among other messages. When the victims said they were reporting him to law enforcement, prosecutors said, DeBerardinis allegedly responded by writing “SNITCHES GET STITCHES” and included a picture of brass knuckles.
In another message, he allegedly boasted to the couple about what he said were his prior exploits, including burning people, prosecutors said.
A federal public defender listed for DeBerardinis didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. His initial appearance had been set for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in US District Court in Boston. Details of that hearing weren’t immediately available.
He is charged with transmitting in interstate commerce threats to injure a person; tampering with a witness and victim by intimidation, threats, and corrupt persuasion; and tampering with a witness and victim by harassment, according to Mendell’s office.
“My office aggressively prosecutes people who threaten racially-motivated violence because such threats are illegal, despicable and an affront to American values,” Mendell said in the statement.
The prosecutor’s words were echoed by Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division.
“Today’s arrest cannot mitigate the fear that Stephen DeBerardinis caused, and the sense of security this couple lost, but it does bring him to justice for allegedly sending a series of rage-filled messages threatening horrific acts of violence,” Bonavolonta said in the statement. “Acts of intimidation and threats of violence perpetrated against people because of their race, ethnicity, color, or creed are reprehensible.”
Authorities said the witness tampering by threat count carries a maximum prison term of 20 years upon conviction, while the other two charges carry maximum prison terms of five and three years, respectively.
“Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” the release said.