“We are trained military people. We will be on rooftops. You will not be safe. A hot piece of lead will cut through your skull,” the defendant said in the May 2020 recording played in court. The message continued: “We’ll start cutting down your staff. This is not a threat. This is a promise.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel A. Fletcher called the message “chilling” and “exactly the type of conduct Congress has sought to prohibit.”
The sentencing Monday in D.C. came one year to the day after a gunman killed the 20-year-old son of New Jersey federal judge Esther Salas and wounded her husband, Fletcher noted. Threats against U.S. judges have quadrupled from 1,000 to 4,000 annually over six years, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden granted prosecutors’ request for a sentence at the bottom of the 18-to-24-month range recommended under federal guidelines, saying Caporusso “intended to subvert the criminal justice system by intimidating [Sullivan] against continuing to preside over a high-profile case.”
“It was nothing less than an attack on our system of government,” McFadden said. “[Sullivan] is a patriot. He did not deserve this, and he certainly does not deserve to live in fear because of your actions.”
Caporusso’s plea to one count of influencing, impeding or retaliating against a federal official came five months after President Donald Trump pardoned Flynn, who admitted to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian ambassador.
McFadden identified Sullivan as the victim in the case for the first time after Sullivan asked prosecutors to read aloud in court a victim impact statement that contained identifying details. Caporusso also named the judge in his own request for mercy.
Caporusso attorney David Benowitz sought a sentence of time served — nearly 11 months since his arrest last August — saying it was sufficient to achieve the government’s goal of deterrence.
He and Caporusso said a traumatic back injury in January 2020, surgery, resulting painkiller addiction and alcohol abuse while suffering withdrawal symptoms combined with personal and business-related stresses tied to pandemic shutdowns to create what McFadden acknowledged was “a chain of events” that no one foresaw.
While 20 family members and other supporters who wrote the court portrayed him as a “hard-working, God-fearing, law-abiding family man” who cared for a developmentally disabled younger brother, Caporusso said that when he made the call, he was intoxicated and consuming the equivalent of six to eight tequila shots a day on average.
“I could not be more sorry or remorseful for threatening Judge Sullivan and his staff and family, and ashamed that I have done such a thing,” he said.
Despite his personal struggles, “there is no excuse for the ugliness of my threat . . . which I would give anything to take back if I could,” he said, apologizing to those he threatened, as well as his wife of 31 years and brother. “If there is any way to make it up to Judge Sullivan, his staff and family, I will do so.”
In his victim statement, Sullivan wrote that the case “added to the cloud of concern hovering over judges nationwide as we preside over courtrooms where civility and respect for the rule of law seem to erode by the day.”
Sullivan said that his and his family’s shock over the voice mail turned to terror when they learned Caporusso possessed a cache of firearms and that they were fiercely attacked on social media upon the defendant’s arrest.
“I feel fear now, even though the defendant is incarcerated,” Sullivan said. The judge said he has sharply limited professional and social appearances and taken unprecedented protective measures to protect his home, his family and himself.
Sullivan, appointed to the D.C. and federal bench by three presidents, from both parties, asked for no specific sentence. McFadden, a 2017 Trump appointee, said he had not spoken with Sullivan about the case.
McFadden said he was convinced that Caporusso never intended to act on his threat and that he was not responsible for any of the threats that thousands of other judges have received, and he noted his lack of any criminal record. But his actions “exacerbated very real feelings among judges that they aren’t safe,” the judge said.
McFadden ordered that Caporusso not consume alcohol for two years while on probation. He concluded that Caporusso could rely on his faith and family support that other defendants “can only dream of,” adding, “I am confident you will rebound from this moment of your life.”