NEW YORK – A New York man pleaded guilty Monday to a series of racist assaults allegedly meant to protest the election of President Barack Obama that left one victim in a coma, the US Department of Justice said.
Ralph Nicoletti, 18, was the last of four defendants to plead guilty in federal court to three hate crime assaults on the night of Obama's election as the first African-American president of the United States. The other co-defendants are Bryan Garaventa, 18, Michael Contreras, 18, and Brian Carranza, 21.
If convicted, they each face sentences of up to 10 years in prison. As part of his plea, Nicoletti agreed to a 12-year sentence subject to the court's approval.
At the plea proceeding, Nicoletti admitted that he and his co-defendants "decided to assault African-Americans in Staten Island (New York) after President Obama was declared the winner of the election on November 4.
"The defendants targeted African-Americans believing they had voted for President Obama," the Justice Department said.
Nicoletti drove the group to a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Staten Island, where Nicoletti hit an African-American teenager with a metal pipe and Garaventa struck him with a police baton.
In a separate location on the island, the group assaulted an African-American man, whom Garaventa tripped and pushed to the ground.
In the third assault, Nicoletti ran his car over an individual the group mistakenly identified as an African-American. US media said the victim was Ronald Forte, a white man. Forte sustained serious injuries and was in a coma for several weeks.
US Attorney Benton Campbell called the attacks "shocking and deplorable."
"On a night of historic significance, these four angry men assaulted their victims in an attempt to punish them for exercising a fundamental right of all Americans -- the right to vote. Those who commit such crimes will be swiftly apprehended, prosecuted and punished," he added.
"In attempting to intimidate voters, the defendants also violated the victims' civil rights in a way that was an attack on the democratic process," said Joseph Demarest, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York Field Office.
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