A Florida man plead guilty Monday to charges that he and neighbors lit a cross on fire in the yard of an interracial couple in 2012, the Tampa Tribune reports.
People living on Seward Drive in the small, coastal city of Port Richey constructed a five-foot cross, leaned it on the couple’s mailbox and lit it on fire on Halloween. On Monday, Pascual Carlos “Pete” Pietri, 53, pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, a civil rights violation, the Tribune reports. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Neighbors had complained to the victim’s landlord and property manager that she had a black man living with her. They also falsely accused the man of being a drug dealer, the Tribune reports.
Pietri coincidentally also plead guilty to robbing a Well’s Fargo bank in May, stealing nearly $5,000. Another neighbor, Thomas Herris Sigler III, when interviewed by police about the cross burning, was obviously intoxicated and admitted to knocking the black man down and accusing him of selling drugs, the Tribune reports. Sigler will be tried on charges of kidnapping, burglary and sexual battery in a separate case.
Cross burnings are not new to Florida.
In 2013, a 50-year-old Florida man accidentally set himself on fire while trying to light a cross, again on Halloween, according to Talking Points Memo. Ron Nielson was taken to the hospital after his clothing caught on fire during what police called a “prank.”
Last October, three white men were charged with burning a cross in the largely-black neighborhood of Milton, local WTSP reports. But police didn’t charge the three with a hate crime because it “did not fall into the parameters of the hate crime definition. They didn’t do it just because they were black,” Milton police Capt. Dave Cox told the station.
A couple months earlier, an African-American Milton woman found a cross burning in her yard, but the police report from the incident says she believed her siblings were responsible because “a white person setting up a cross and lighting it on fire in that area would have drawn a lot of attention,” Northwest Florida Daily News reports.