PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 48-year-old Washington state man was arrested Wednesday and charged in federal court for allegedly making threats against members of Congress via voicemail.
Mark Leonetti, of Longview, appeared Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma on seven counts of making interstate threats, according to U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Nick Brown.
It wasn’t immediately known if Leonetti has a lawyer to comment on the case.
Officials allege that starting in 2021 Leonetti left hundreds of violent, racist and antisemitic voicemails for members in the U.S. House and Senate.
This September, he again left threatening voicemails for several members of Congress. The most recent messages were left on Dec. 5 and contained bizarre and threatening statements about “killing” individuals, officials said.
During the past two years, Leonetti was contacted about the messages by law enforcement and mental health professionals, but officials said the messages continued.
“We acted now because it has become clear it is the only way to safeguard the community and those serving it,” Brown said in a statement.
Law enforcement and the Department of Justice are seeing a dramatic increase in political threats, Brown said.
U.S. Capitol Police told KUOW nearly 10,000 cases involving serious threats of violence aimed at members of Congress were reported last year, up nearly 150% over a five-year period, officials said.
Brown said as U.S. attorney he needs to take verbal threats seriously, in part because of concerns that those threats can escalate into physical violence.
“We’ve all seen horrific acts of violence against elected officials or their family members, most recently with Speaker Pelosi’s husband in California,” Brown said.
Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked by an intruder in their San Francisco home in October.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Washington declined to release the names of the lawmakers Leonetti allegedly threatened.
If convicted, Leonetti could face up to five years in prison.