MCALLEN, Texas - A U.S. citizen living in Reynosa, Mexico, was sentenced here Wednesday to serve six months in federal prison for sending false bomb threats via the internet to the McAllen Miller International Airport in 2007. U.S. Attorney Don DeGrabrielle, Southern District of Texas, announced the sentence. The investigative efforts were coordinated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and local law enforcement agencies.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, who imposed the sentence on Juan Rodrigo-Rodriguez, 20, departed downward from the sentencing guideline range requested by the government. However, he denied Rodriguez' request for a probationary sentence.
During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Judge Hinojosa considered arguments from the government urging the court to impose a sentence within the applicable guideline range of 18 to 24 months based on the criminal actions of Rodriguez, the disruption his actions caused at McAllen Miller International Airport, and the fact no evidence was presented definitively proving Rodriguez suffered Asperger syndrome or diminished capacity.
Attorneys for Rodriguez sought a downward departure and a sentence of probation based upon a doctor's testimony at a previous hearing that Rodriguez may have diminished capacity, or may have Asperger syndrome. The court, relying on medical reports and testimony at previous hearings, ultimately decided the defendant appeared to have Asperger syndrome, but declined to grant probation stating that there had to be consequences for his actions. In addition to the six-month prison term, the court ordered Rodriguez to serve a two-year-term of supervised release during which he is not to use computers.
Between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10, 2007, the McAllen Miller International Airport received four separate bomb threats via the message board on the airport's website. Two threats were sent Aug. 22, and the others were sent Sept. 7 and Sept. 10. All were written in Spanish and sent via e-mail with false return e-mail addresses. The threats claimed "C-4" explosives were located inside the airport or in a vehicle parked in a lot by the airport, or that bombs were aboard in-bound Continental Airlines flights. In the Sept. 7 threat, Rodriguez demanded airport personnel deliver $20,000 to the reception desk area of Holiday Inn hotels, but no one approached the hotel's reception desk on either date to claim the money. The airport received the last threat Sept. 7, which claimed explosives were inside the airport and aboard an outbound Continental Airlines flight to Houston from McAllen.
Each of the bomb threats prompted immediate action by the FBI, ICE, TSA and CBP along with local law enforcement agencies to secure the airport and ensure the safety of the flying public. No bombs or explosives were found.
According to court documents, the FBI immediately initiated an investigation to identify the location of the computer from which the messages originated. On Sept. 15, 2007, a computer using the same Internet Protocol address and web browser as the one from which the threats had originated was located in Reynosa, Mexico. This computer was secured at the residence of Rodriguez's parents in Reynosa, Mexico, on Sept. 22. A computer forensic examination confirmed the computer was used to access the airport and Continental Airlines websites.
Originally charged in a two-count indictment with knowingly and intentionally conveying false and misleading information on at least two occasions to the management of McAllen Miller International Airport, Rodriguez pleaded guilty Dec. 26, 2007, to the second count of the indictment.
Rodriguez, who has been on bond since his arrest, has been ordered to turn himself in to the U.S. Marshals Service in McAllen, Texas, on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. to begin serving his sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Juan F. Alanis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.