US man pleads guilty to hoax threat to blow up Statue of Liberty

By Brendan Pierson
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NEW YORK, June 6 (Reuters) - A West Virginia man on Monday pleaded guilty to making a hoax threat to blow up the Statue of Liberty last year, which prompted the evacuation of thousands of tourists from Liberty Island in New York harbor.

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Jason Paul Smith, 42, admitted to one count of conveying false and misleading information and hoaxes before U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan. The defendant said he was currently in mental health treatment.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou said the government agreed under a plea deal to recommend a sentence of three years' supervised release, though the judge is not bound by that recommendation.

Smith faces a maximum five-year prison term at his scheduled Sept. 6 sentencing. Jennifer Willis, a federal public defender representing Smith, said after the hearing that her client was satisfied with the deal.

The defendant, from Harts, West Virginia, was accused of making the hoax threat in an April 2015 call in which he identified himself as an "ISI terrorist" named Abdul Yasin, and said "we" were planning to "blow up" the Statute of Liberty.

More than 3,200 people were evacuated from Liberty Island after officials learned of a bomb scare at around 11 a.m. Officials sounded an all-clear about four hours later.

Authorities suspect a fugitive named Abdul Rahman Yasin of involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Smith made the threat by placing a call from his iPad to New York City's emergency 911 system, using a service for the hearing-impaired, authorities said.

He has attended a school for the deaf and blind, authorities said, citing his Facebook page, and he used a sign language interpreter in court on Monday.

Authorities said the iPad registered in Smith's name was also used to make two 911 calls in May 2015, when a user identified as "isis allah Bomb maker" threatened to attack Times Square and kill police officers at the Brooklyn Bridge.

The defendant was arrested in Texas in August and released on bail the following month, according to court records.

ISIS is short for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a group also known as the Islamic State and ISIL.

The case is USA v. Smith, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-cr-00128. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)