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White is already serving time for soliciting violence against a juror in another case.
William A. White
Saturday, November 2, 2013
A Roanoke jury convicted former neo-Nazi leader William A. White on Friday of extortion-related felony charges, delivering another dose of justice to a man who has racked up multiple convictions for fearsome threats against a variety of targets.
The 36-year-old White, already serving prison time for soliciting violence against a juror, glanced down as the verdicts ended a three-day trial at the Poff Federal Building. He looked a short time later at his mother in the gallery.
The verdict by a rare anonymous jury was the latest of a string of courtroom defeats for White, a real estate owner in the Roanoke area since 2004 who first came to official attention as a vocal white supremacist bent on building a national following for his racist views.
In spring 2012, while living in Rockbridge County, he fled from probation supervision to a Mexican island with plans never to return to the United States, according to proceedings in U.S. District Court.
But life on the lam on the touristy Yucatan Peninsula wasn’t cheap, and he needed cash, prosecutors said.
His estranged wife, Meghan, then living in Staunton, had agreed to furnish White with $400 in monthly support but stopped payment on a check shortly after the U.S. Marshals Service called and told her White had fled.
White was furious about the stopped check, assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Rottenborn told jurors, and lashed out in emails sent from his personal Yahoo account in May and June 2012 that were designed to instill fear.
“I would very much like to avoid an incident in which something violent potentially happens to you around the baby,” one of four emails warned. The couple has a daughter who is 5.
Another email told Meghan White to pay “or you will probably be hospitalized.”
The saga ended with White’s arrest and the confiscation of his laptop June 8 at a Mexican Walmart. Meghan White and the child were never harmed. He’s been in custody ever since.
White testified that he didn’t send the emails and blamed a female colleague, Sabrina Gnos, a woman who had password access to his email and Facebook accounts and handled his business affairs after he left the country.
“Who sent the emails is very much in dispute in this case,” Paul Beers, White’s court-appointed attorney, told jurors.
If jurors did think the emails were White’s work, Beers asked them to judge whether they really amounted to extortion.
“Or is this a domestic relations case that the government wants to bring for its own political purpose?” Beers asked.
Authorities were hampered to a degree by their inability to crack encryption software White placed on his personal laptop and by other technology to mask his location while online. But content, dates and other information turned over by Facebook and Yahoo and testimony from Meghan White and Gnos helped prosecutors make the case to the jury.
It was Gnos who, after accompanying White to Mexico and then returning to Roanoke, revealed his general location to authorities. She allowed federal authorities to record phone calls from White. Then, believing she was about to wire him money from his business bank account, White went to a Walmart near where he was staying. He called Gnos and told her he was ready. Coached by federal authorities, Gnos asked White to provide the Walmart store number and then wait. Mexican authorities who were summoned to help surrounded White in the store; he ran but was caught.
The jury deliberated for three hours and 15 minutes before convicting White of three counts of transmitting a threatening communication to attempt to extort money. On a fourth charge of a four-count indictment, the jury found White guilty of a lesser-included offense of sending a threatening email that did not seek money.
Before the trial began Wednesday, Judge James Turk declared that jurors would go by numbers, not their names, to keep the names from White. That was the wish of prosecutors, who said White and the people with whom he associates have no respect for the judicial process, are likely to interfere with the conduct of the trial and “are capable of harming jurors.”
“The court concludes that the jury needs protection from interference or harm,” Turk’s decision said.
Turk explained the cloaking of jurors’ names much differently, however, when he addressed about 45 prospective jurors bearing plastic number badges at the start of jury selection Wednesday.
“We want to ensure you will remain anonymous so you will not be contacted by anyone in the media,” Turk said, adding he also wanted to ensure they received no “outside information.”
Turk did not mention officials’ concern for jurors’ safety.
Turk and court officials were careful in other ways to avoid inciting jury prejudice against White. Jurors did not see White brought into the courtroom in handcuffs. They weren’t told about past leadership of a white supremacy group or details of his criminal past — which includes a conviction in 2009 in Roanoke for threatening or intimidating strangers who sparked his racist temper and a conviction in 2011 in Chicago for soliciting violence against the former foreman of a Chicago jury that convicted a fellow white supremacist.
Two years remain on White’s latest prison sentence, set to end in November 2015, but prosecutors plan to see that extended when he is sentenced on his latest convictions.
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