A Bettendorf man with a long history of making threats was sentenced Tuesday to five years in federal prison for sending a bomb threat to Scott Community College in November 2015.
America Yegile Haileselassie, 39, through a sign-language interpreter, during a 90-minute sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court, Davenport, said that “I’m very, very sorry for what happened.”
Chief Judge John Jarvey called the threats “acts of terrorism.”
“You inflicted fear for your enjoyment,” the judge said.
Haileselassie must serve one year of supervised release once he completes his prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
He pleaded guilty in October to interstate communication of a threat. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed an additional charge of interstate communication of a threat during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.
At 10:35 a.m. Nov. 4, 2015, Scott County Sheriff's deputies were called to the college in Davenport and were shown a stack of printed paper from the Student Success Center that each contained the printed message, "There is a bomb at Scott Community College. It will explode at noon today,” according to the plea agreement.
The college building was searched and nothing was found.
An employee who found the printed paper observed an email address that was linked to Haileselassie, a former student. Deputies learned he had been verbally told he was suspended one week prior. An official suspension letter was mailed to him Nov. 2, 2015, according to the plea agreement.
According to documents, a similar bomb threat had been discovered two days earlier. Again, nothing was found.
Haileselassie was initially charged in Scott County District Court, but the charge was dismissed when he was indicted in federal court in October 2016.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Westphal argued that the bomb threats caused a substantial disruption to the college and said that Haileselassie attempted to obstruct justice while his case was pending.
Westphal wrote in a sentencing memo filed Feb. 8 that Haileselassie sent at least 17 handwritten letters to law enforcement, witnesses, witnesses and the probation office and repeatedly claimed that he was being framed.
Westphal further wrote that Haileselassie, while in the Muscatine County Jail, twice contacted Quad-Cities Crime Stoppers and claimed that the bomb threats had been made by a former classmate.
Scott County Sheriff’s Deputy Rachelle Kunde testified Tuesday that there was no evidence to substantiate the claim.
His attorney, Anne Laverty, argued Tuesday that the threats did not cause the college to shut down or cancel classes.
She also argued that given Haileselassie’s history of calling in false threats, it is unlikely that any tip or letter from him would be taken seriously and that there was no evidence that law enforcement spent a significant amount of time or resources to investigate the tips.
Laverty also said that he suffers from mental illness, which has not been adequately treated.
In 2004, Haileselassie made a bomb threat against the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, federal court documents state. He spent 33 months in a federal prison on a charge of conveying false information concerning an act of violence against a mass transportation system.
Haileselassie was ordered to spend three years on supervised release from Sept. 19, 2006, through Sept. 18, 2009, after he completed his prison sentence.
On May 12, 2009, he mailed a letter to a detective in the Bettendorf Police Department. The envelope contained a powder and a letter telling the detective he was going to kill him and to "enjoy the anthrax spores!" Testing revealed the substance was a mixture of baby powder and carpet cleaner.
Haileselassie was arrested on a charge of mailing threatening communications in early 2010 and then pleaded guilty to the charge Sept. 27 of that year.
On Jan. 27, 2011, he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison with credit for time served since his arrest. He was also ordered to serve three years on supervised release after he completed his prison term. He violated his terms of release several times, according to court records.