A Maine man who sent emails with threats to commit crimes at gunpoint, in one instance posing as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Police Chief Robert Merner, has been released from custody pending his sentencing.
Austin Santoro, 23, of York pleaded guilty in December 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 and made threats of gunpoint violence. The second plea alleges he did the same thing to employees at York County Community College.
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After reviewing opposing arguments about whether Santoro should be released before sentencing, federal Judge D. Brock Hornby concluded Santoro is guilty of a crime of violence and, under the federal Bail Reform Act, is required to be detained until sentencing, unless he qualifies for release due to “exceptional reasons.”
Santoro’s attorney J. Hilary Billings had argued the exceptional reasons include his client’s need of mental health treatment and reported that arrangements were made for that to commence upon his release from prison. Billings wrote to the court that Santoro has already spent nine months in prison, 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.”
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The judge allowed for Santoro’s release and court records indicate he is required to live with a relative in Massachusetts, to report to probation and receive treatment. He is also ordered to participate in the Computer and Internet Monitoring Program, which may restrict or prohibit his use of electronic devices, according to court records.
Santoro’s sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
In addition to the charges involving the Portsmouth police chief, Santoro was initially alleged to have sent 10 emails to the York Police Department, three to the Kittery Police Department, seven involving Boston University emails, eight involving York County Community College, seven related to the town of York and one associated with the York School Department.
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According to an affidavit by Homeland Security Agent Derek Dunn, to mask the source of the emails, Santoro used an electronic service based in the Czech Republic, which cooperated with the investigation.
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