|HUD No. 00-43|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||Wednesday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||March 1, 2000|
CUOMO WELCOMES JUDGE'S DECISION THAT HATE GROUP LEADER VIOLATED FAIR HOUSING ACT
WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today welcomed a ruling by a federal administrative law judge that found a hate group leader violated the Fair Housing Act by making death threats against a fair housing advocate on the Internet and in a television interview.
Chief Administrative Law Judge Alan W. Heifetz issued a default decision Tuesday against Ryan Wilson and his Philadelphia neo-Nazi group ALPHA HQ. The decision says that because Wilson failed to respond to housing discrimination charges filed by HUD within 30 days, as required under law, Wilson by default admits to HUD's charges that he violated the Fair Housing Act.
The case, involving death threats to fair housing advocate Bonnie Jouhari, is believed to be the first brought by HUD for an Internet-related hate incident. Because she feared for her life and for the life of her daughter, Jouhari and her daughter fled their home near Reading, PA, and moved to Washington State after being terrorized by the threats. The two have since moved to another area.
A U.S. Postal Service letter carrier provided an affidavit to HUD that said he had delivered the legal papers to Wilson on Jan. 15, charging Wilson with violating the Fair Housing Act, and informing Wilson that he was required to respond to the charges.
"If we are to create the One America that President Clinton seeks, we must end housing discrimination once and for all in every town and city in this nation, and in cyberspace as well," Cuomo said. "Our message is clear: if you violate the Fair Housing Act we will find you, we will charge you, and we will seek the full penalties the law allows."
A hearing to determine if Wilson must pay damages - and if so, how much - will be held April 18 before Judge Heifitz in Washington, DC. The charges against Wilson can carry civil penalties of up to $22,000, plus monetary relief to Jouhari and her daughter, Danielle, now 17. The compensation may cover damages, humiliation and mental distress by the mother and daughter.
"I'm overjoyed at the judge's decision,"
Jouhari said today. "Secretary Cuomo and HUD stood up in defense of
the law and because of their work the haters lost a round and justice has
prevailed. I hope this sends a message that people can't use the Internet
to break the law - and that if they do, somebody's going to pay."
Cuomo announced in January that HUD had charged Wilson with violating the Fair Housing Act for posting threats against Jouhari on the Internet and in TV interview.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation.
Jouhari, who is white, worked at the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council in Reading, PA at the time the threats were made in 1998 and was also chairperson of the Hate Crimes Task Force for Berks County, PA.
The charge filed by HUD against Wilson says he violated the Fair Housing Act by threatening Jouhari to stop her from working to help enforce the Act. Jouhari's job was to help housing discrimination victims file complaints under the Act.
Wilson did not respond to attempts to interview him about the allegations or conciliate the case. However, Wilson admitted to the FBI that he indeed put the images of Jouhari on the web site and wrote the captions. Wilson also told the FBI he created the images of the Human Relations Council building burning, but said he did not advocate the blowing up or burning of the building.
Wilson's web site carried Jouhari's picture, labeled her a "race traitor" and said: "Traitors like this should beware, for in our day, they will be hung from the neck from the nearest tree or lamp post." The site also carried an animated picture of Jouhari's office being blown up by explosives.
The web site, which is no longer on the Internet, had the URL of www.alpha.org/stateofhate.
Wilson also stated on his web site that Jouhari had a "mongrel" daughter - a reference to the fact that while Jouhari is white, her daughter's father is black.
In addition, HUD has a videotape of a television interview in which Wilson responds to the question "Would you ever hang her (Jouhari) from a tree?" with the reply: "In our time, yes."
HUD has increased its enforcement of the Fair Housing Act efforts under Cuomo, who noted that HUD will be able to increase its efforts to combat housing discrimination even further if President Clinton's new budget request for a 14 percent increase in funding for HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is approved. The President is asking Congress for $50 million for HUD's anti-discrimination office in the Fiscal Year 2001 Federal Budget - up from $44 million the current fiscal year, $40 million in FY 1999, and $30 million in FY 1998.
People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.