Friday, June 6, 2008

Casa officials call for end to racist threats

Three calls received May 18; Maryland, D.C. police investigating

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Casa of Maryland’s Communications Specialist Mario Quiroz plays a recording of a threat leveled toward him at a press conference Tuesday.
Representatives of an immigrant advocacy group have called for an investigation by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office into three threatening phone calls made last month.

The request was made in a letter sent from Casa of Maryland on Tuesday to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

Casa officials held a press conference Tuesday morning detailing the calls and asking for a stop to the threats.

On Sunday, May 18, between 3:20 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., threatening phone calls were made to Casa’s board vice president the Rev. Simon Bautista, communications specialist Mario Quiroz and the organization’s Frederick County toll-free hot line, Quiroz said.

He was at home when the call came in on his work cell phone. Bautista received the call as a voice mail on a Washington number for his job as director of the Latino Ministry of the Episcopalian Archdiocese.

Maryland and District of Columbia police were notified about the threats the next day.

Two of the three calls were played at the press conference and contain a male voice making the threats. In Quiroz’s call, the caller threatens him not to be surprised ‘‘when all your places start to blow up in pieces,” a threat similar to the one made to the Frederick number.

The voicemail to Bautista calls the board member a ‘‘spic,” and warns him not to be surprised when there is a ‘‘bullet in the back” of his brain.

‘‘We come to work, we help the community, but it’s really scary when on Sunday afternoon you get this type of call,” Quiroz said.

Gansler spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said the letter arrived Thursday and it was still being reviewed.

Casa operates four day-laborer centers in Montgomery County. It also provides services for immigrants, including English classes and vocational training.

Hate calls to the organization are not unusual, as officials have received several communications railing against immigrants and the day-laborer centers. A timeline presented at the press conference listed such incoming comments as, ‘‘Casa is a joke ... they simply hate Americans” and ‘‘you people need to be shut down.”

But the personal threats included in the calls demonstrate an increased level of racism toward the organization and the population they serve, representatives said.

‘‘I hope right now the bomb threats are just that, threats,” Quiroz said. ‘‘But what if they are not?”

In a bit of confusion, a release issued by Casa late last week about the threats said the police and FBI were involved. Special Agent Richard Wolf, spokesman for the FBI Baltimore field office serving the Montgomery County area, said his office was not involved, and a call to the Washington field office was not returned.

Casa had a mix-up in early May when the organization held a press conference in Frederick County to criticize an arrest conducted under a new Sheriff’s Office program to check the immigration status of everyone incarcerated at the county jail. But the arrest was conducted by the Maryland State Police and not part of the sheriff’s program.

In this case, Montgomery County police spokeswoman Lucille Baur confirmed that the county police as well as D.C. police were investigating the case, including a county detective assigned to the case who works with the FBI’s joint terrorism force.

The threat reported to the police was not a direct bomb threat, but ‘‘alluded that that may be a possibility,” Baur said. ‘‘If there were an actual incendiary device, that would be deemed terrorism.”

Quiroz said the calls were made from numbers with a 410 area code and the numbers were saved and forwarded to police.

Baur, would not confirm that detail, and declined to give more information citing the ongoing investigation.

A year ago last month, a small arson fire at the organization’s day-laborer center in Shady Grove resulted in $2,000 worth of damage. County police investigated the incident but turned up no leads.

‘‘There is nothing new on the arson,” said Capt. Sam Hsu this week. ‘‘We followed up on everything we were able to develop early on. We interviewed a lot of people.”

But police were not able to get any forensic results from the scene, said Hsu, the county Fire Marshall’s lead investigator on the case, and even the Spanish tip line revealed no new information.

‘‘This is still an open case and we are still investigating,” he said.

Since the arson incident, Casa has installed surveillance cameras at the Shady Grove center.