Riverside woman who bombarded Jewish family with ‘hate-filled’ phone calls sentenced to prison

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A Riverside woman who bombarded the former executive director of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue with phone calls and threatening voicemails — the first coming just months after the deadliest antisemitic attack on U.S. soil — has been sentenced to almost three years in prison, according to court documents.

Melanie Harris, 59, hurled antisemitic slurs, vowed violence, including beheadings, and used “vile and inflammatory language,” according to a Miami-based FBI agent.

Harris, who pleaded guilty in March, was sentenced by a Miami judge to 32 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for intentionally transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce. The Federal Bureau of Prisons will determine where Harris will serve her sentence.

A call and email to the attorney representing Harris were not returned.

Markenzy Lapointe, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said Harris’ ”antisemitic threats terrorized a Jewish family.”

“Her hate-filled telephone calls and voicemails were abhorrent,” Lapointe said in a statement. “No one should live in fear of threats, harassment and hate-fueled violence.”

The calls began in February 2019, according to court documents — just months after Robert Bowers shot and killed 11 worshipers at the Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. Bowers, who has since been convicted and sentenced to death, espoused white supremacist views and ranted about his hatred of Jews online prior to the shooting.

Harris cloaked her identity using the *67 feature, which blocks caller identification, and left voicemails laden “with antisemitic and harassing language,” according to court documents.

She initially placed three calls in a span of three minutes, first to Tree of Life and then twice calling a person identified in court documents as Victim No. 1, the former executive director of Tree of Life who was then living in the Pittsburgh area.

Between February 2019 and March 2022, Harris called Victim No. 1 an additional 53 times, according to court records. An analysis presented in court demonstrated that Harris attempted 190 calls between October 2022 and February 2023, including 129 in November. Many of those calls, however, were unanswered or immediately hung up on, according to court documents.

All calls to Victim No. 1 were made from Harris’ Riverside home, authorities said.

Harris left 15 voicemails for Victim No. 1 on Oct. 3, 2022, including four threatening and antisemitic messages. In one, court documents say, Harris twice threatened to decapitate Victim No. 1’s stepchild, whom she referred to using an antisemitic slur, according to court documents.

That same day, Harris made three additional calls to Victim No. 1, all advocating similar violence against him and his family, according to court documents.

On Nov. 22, Harris threatened in another voicemail to stab Victim No. 1, according to court documents. There was an additional call and threat on Dec. 6.

In voicemails left at Tree of Life, she gloated about the shooting of Jewish grandmas, using a slur, according to court documents. Harris also lobbed antisemitic slurs at the adult child and stepchild of Victim No. 1 and his wife, court documents say.

Neither the victims nor Harris knew each other, court documents and prosecutors said. Harris was not believed to have any ties to Tree of Life.

Victim No. 1 and his wife eventually left Pennsylvania and moved to Broward County, Fla. Victim No. 1, however, did not change his cell number, wishing to keep ties with the Pittsburgh community, according to court documents.

Authorities say Harris also made references to Anne Frank’s death at the hands of the Nazis, and Jews being sent back to Auschwitz. In one call played in court, Harris repeatedly screamed, “Sieg Heil, [Jew] killers,” using a slur, before hanging up, according to court documents.

She was arrested on March 4, 2023.

“The nature of her threats of violence towards the victims and their faith were clearly meant to evoke a climate of fear and intimidation,” Jeffrey B. Veltri, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office, said in a statement. “Such conduct cannot be tolerated.”

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