FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A woman was sentenced Thursday to two years in federal prison for threatening gun violence last year against one of the nation's largest school systems, triggering a massive lockdown affecting more than a quarter-million students.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore imposed a harsher sentence than recommended under federal guidelines for 48-year-old Ellisa Martinez because of the scale of the disruption. Moore said Martinez's threatening email and phone call to conservative radio talk show host Joyce Kaufman was aimed at causing "maximum havoc" in Broward County schools — the nation's sixth-largest.
"It is certainly more serious than a threat communicated to a single individual," Moore said.
Martinez pleaded guilty in May to making the threats to Kaufman, after reading online that Kaufman was chosen as chief of staff to new Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West. Kaufman opted not to take the job to avoid political fallout for West, a tea party favorite and ardent gun rights supporter.
Kaufman became controversial last year for making politically-charged comments many people considered incendiary, including remarks at a tea party rally in July 2010 that "if ballots don't work, bullets will. You need to be prepared to fight tyranny."
The Nov. 10 email traced by investigators to Martinez's computer discussed some of Kaufman's statements about gun rights and said that "something big" was being planned at a Broward County government building or school.
"I'm going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd Amendment is all about," the email said.
Later that morning, a woman called Kaufman's radio station to say that her husband — a fictional person named "Bill Johnson" — was "going to shoot up a school in Pembroke Pines," a city in western Broward County. That call was traced to Martinez's cell phone.
The threats caused officials to order about 275,000 students locked down for several hours in 300 public, private and charter schools. Tens of thousands of dollars in overtime and other expenses were incurred by numerous police agencies and the FBI, said prosecutor Michael Walleisa.
Because Martinez has already been jailed for about eight months since the November 2010 incident, she will likely have a little more than a year remaining in prison. The maximum sentence for her crime is five years.
Her attorney, Samuel Randall, asked Moore to credit Martinez with time served and add six months of house arrest, but Walleisa insisted prison time was necessary.
"This activity on the part of Ms. Martinez was clearly planned and calculated," Walleisa said. "This is not a minor event."
Kauffman, who broadcasts from WFTL in Pompano Beach, attended Thursday's hearing and said afterward the judge did the right thing.
"It's a deliberate act. She needed to be punished," Kaufman said. "She had a vendetta against a Republican congressman."
In brief remarks, Martinez apologized for her actions and for causing "the drama of that day." Her attorney, Randall, said Martinez was attempting to make a mocking political point about the dangers of gun violence and never intended to cause such a major problem or harm anyone.
"She was trying to be sarcastic in sending this email. She was being impulsive," Randall said.
But Walleisa noted that she did several computer searches over two days to identify Kaufman, schools and cities in Broward County, and West's positions on issues.
Martinez, from New Port Richey on Florida's Gulf Coast, fled Florida for California after she was contacted by the FBI. She was eventually arrested in the Los Angeles area.