Stephen Espalin threatened Obamas: court date set, previously jailed for threatening President Bush

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Eighteen months in prison for threatening to kill former President George W. Bush in 2001 didn't have the desired effect on Stephen Espalin.

The Palm Beach County man is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 10 for threatening to assassinate President Obama, the First Family and their dog, Bo.

Espalin, 57, was being treated for heart attack symptoms at Boca Raton Regional Hospital on Dec. 9, 2010, when he told Secret Service agents that he intended to kill the president. He claimed he shipped a bomb to the White House that day.

"Espalin stated that he hoped the explosive device would kill the President of the United States because he did not approve of his political leadership," according to Espalin's plea agreement.

The charge is uncommon – authorities in the Southern District of Florida, which stretches from Fort Pierce to Key West, have charged 26 people with the offense since 1994.

Espalin claimed the bomb was the size of a shoe box, contained batteries, "explosive materials and visible external wiring" and would be triggered by heat. Court records suggest there was no bomb.

Espalin also said he traveled to Denver and Los Angeles to try to kill the president. He said he visited the sites where President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas and where an assassination attempt was made on President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C.

Court and newspaper records show Espalin previously made a threat against a sitting president when he told police in Memphis, Tenn., that he was going to kill President Bush with a bomb in July 2001.

He later apologized. "I was just mad and upset," he told a judge in Tennessee who sentenced him to 18 months in prison and ordered him to get psychiatric treatment.

Espalin has borderline personality disorder, a mental illness characterized by unstable moods and impulsive and reckless behavior, experts said.

Espalin had racked up 59 arrests under 24 names and 12 Social Security numbers, including two convictions for sexual offenses and numerous theft and fraud convictions, by the time of his 2002 sentencing, federal prosecutors in Tennessee said.

An appellate ruling from 2003 said psychological tests on Espalin showed he had a pretty normal mental capacity and Espalin told a psychologist he was "80 per cent" regretful that he did not recant his threat against Bush.

"He stated that a part of him wants to continue making the threats because he enjoys the attention that he is getting," an appeals judge wrote.

Espalin has a record of filing grievances in prisons around the country, usually about religious issues and accommodating his wheelchair.

He lost a bid to force prison officials in Idaho to feed him kosher meals – coveted by many inmates who say it's better quality food than the ubiquitous bologna and ground meat – because he couldn't prove he was Jewish.

Officials at the Palm Beach County Jail took his word for it and gave him kosher food while he was locked up there for four months, but he filed a civil lawsuit complaining about access to religious services with a rabbi. At the same time, he complained he hadn't received Holy Communion or a Bible study visit.

"I grew up both Jewish and Catholic," Espalin wrote.

Espalin has added new arrests in recent years, including two Palm Beach County convictions and a three-year state prison sentence in 2011 for grand theft and failing to register as a sex offender.

He has been locked up since his 2010 arrest in Boca Raton and faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced Thursday by Senior Judge Kenneth Ryskamp.

Though Espalin pleaded guilty to making the threats in October 2011, sentencing was delayed while he underwent chemotherapy for cancer at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. The judge rejected a recent attempt to delay his sentencing because of heart surgery.


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