Syracuse, N.Y. — A Broome County man convicted of sending threatening voicemails to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will not have to pay for the congresswoman’s security fence, a federal judge in Syracuse ruled Tuesday.
Greene, a Republican from Georgia, wanted the man, Joseph F. Morelli, to pay $66,632 in restitution, saying the security expenses were the direct result of his threats.
Lawyers for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York, who submitted the restitution request on Greene’s behalf, argued that the money was needed to pay for more than 1,200 feet of fencing installed at Greene’s Georgia home, plus work on security cameras. The upgrades were paid for using the congresswoman’s campaign money.
On Tuesday, U.S. Chief District Judge Brenda Kay Sannes said she did not have the authority to award restitution for personal security enhancements. But even if she did, Sannes said the arguments to force Morelli to pay weren’t very convincing.
The judge said prosecutors failed to link Morelli’s threats to being the direct cause behind the upgrades.
At a restitution hearing earlier this month, Morelli’s lawyer, Public Defender Gabriella DiBella, said work on the fence did not start until December 2022, nine months after Morelli left the voicemails.
The lawyer also pointed out that two other people have been prosecuted for threatening Greene, including one who was arrested just two months before the fence went up. The congresswoman also previously admitted to receiving death threats every day, DiBella said.
Prosecutors said at the hearing that Morelli’s threats stood out among the rest. They argued his threats were viewed as more credible.
Morelli left seven voicemails in March 2022 to Greene’s office in Washington, D.C. He threatened to take her life in his hands and hurt her, going so far as to say that if he were locked up he would hire someone to hurt her, federal prosecutors said.
Morelli is serving a three-month term in federal prison.
“In light of the delay in undertaking the personal security enhancements at issue here, the volume of threats Congresswoman Greene received, and the other specific incidents involving her…the Government has not established by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant’s offenses were the direct and proximate cause of Congresswoman Greene’s personal security expenditures,” Sannes wrote in her decision.
DiBella on Tuesday said Greene’s restitution request was “at its best, baseless and at its worst, fraudulent.”
“Through her restitution request, Congresswoman Greene was attempting to use the federal judiciary to unjustly enrich herself for expenses paid for by her campaign fund,” DiBella said in a statement to syracuse.com | The Post-Standard.
“We are glad that Mr. Morelli will not have to reimburse her campaign for these expenditures, especially as he survives solely on disability benefits. With the denial of this request for restitution, justice has been served.”
Staff writer Fernando Alba covers breaking news, crime and public safety. Have a tip, story idea, question or comment? Reach him: Email | Twitter or at 315-690-6950.