Houston, Texas-Area Teenager Sentenced to More Than Three Years in Prison for Swatting and Making Bomb Threats to Minnesota High School
United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger today announced the sentencing of ZACHARY LEE MORGENSTERN, 19, to 41 months in prison, followed by three years’ supervised release, for calling in multiple false bomb threats, making harassing text messages, and making “swatting” phone calls, in which he falsely reported hostage situations. MORGENSTERN was arrested in Texas on May 14, 2015, and was transported to Minnesota. MORGENTERN pleaded guilty on August 7, 2015. He was sentenced today before U.S. District Judge Joan N. Ericksen in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minn.
“The defendant engaged in a pattern of harassing activity against several victims using the cloak of anonymity afforded by the Internet,” said Assistant United States Attorney Timothy C. Rank. “He wrought emotional havoc and caused the needless expenditure of public funds to respond to his destructive e-mails, tweets, and phone calls. Mr. Morgenstern committed his crimes in part because he thought he would not get caught. Because of the excellent investigative work of the FBI, he was wrong, and the sentence today sends a strong message that there are serious consequences for this type of behavior.”
“This sentencing reinforces the FBI’s willingness and ability to bring to justice those who would make bomb threats against our schools and misuse law enforcement resources,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Minneapolis Division Richard T. Thornton. “There is no tolerance for such crimes.”
“It’s good to have closure in this matter so we can move on from the disruption in our city and school district caused by Mr. Morgenstern’s actions,” said Marshall Police Chief Rob Yant.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, between October 2014 and May 2015, MORGENSTERN, made a series of threatening communications against a number of different victims in the Marshall, Minnesota area. MORGENSTERN, concealing his identity using anonymized e-mail addresses, Twitter handles, and Internet-based phone accounts, made threats to kill a police officer and her family; threats to use explosives to blow up a school; and threats to use guns to shoot up a school. MORGENSTERN also engaged in a series of “swatting” attacks, in which he made hoax phone calls to law enforcement making it appear that there was a violent crime in progress at a residence, when in fact no such crime was taking place. The defendant engaged in these “swatting” calls with the intent that they would result in an emergency police response to the residence, ideally involving a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, one such attack came on October 7, 2014, when MORGENSTERN called the Marshall Police dispatch center and claimed to have taken two people hostage at a residence of H.M., a minor, in Marshall. MORGENSTERN further claimed that he had shot one of the hostages in the knee cap and that he was going to kill both hostages unless he received a duffel bag containing a half a million dollars. The Marshall Police Department determined that call was a hoax.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, on January 6, 2015, MORGENSTERN called in a bomb threat into the Marshall, Minnesota Police Department dispatch center. In the call, MORGENSTERN claimed to be D.R., a 17-year-old male from Marshall, Minnesota, and he stated that he had placed bombs around Marshall High School that were set to detonate in approximately one hour. School officials evacuated the school and responding officers searched the school and determined the threat was a hoax. Two days later, on January 8, 2015, MORGENSTERN, concealing his identity, placed a call to Marshall Police dispatch claimed he had taken a father and son hostage at gunpoint at their residence in Marshall. MORGENSTERN claimed he had already shot the father in the leg and would soon shoot both hostages in the head. The address provided by the caller for the hostage situation was the residence of a D.R. Police responded to the call and learned that it had been a hoax. Shortly after the call to Marshall Police, MORGENSTERN tweeted that he was in the process of “swatting” D.R.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, on January 9, 2015, MORGENSTERN called the Marshall Police dispatch and, claiming to be D.R., threatened to “shoot up” Marshall High School in 30 minutes and kill everybody. MORGENSTERN then tweeted from the account, @RIURichHomie that D.R. was going to shoot up a school in 10 minutes. On January 11, 2015, MORGENSTERN sent an e-mail message to the Superintendent of Marshall, Minnesota Public Schools which had purportedly been sent by D.R. In the message, MORGENSTERN claimed he was D.R. and that he had planted a bomb at a Marshall school that would detonate at 10:00 a.m. the following day. MORGENSTERN also claimed he would arrive at a different Marshall school at the same time and shoot students and faculty members.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, on January 29, 2015, an e-mail message was received by a Marshall Public Schools employee that purportedly had been sent by D.R., but in fact sent by MORGENSTERN. The sender claimed he had placed a bomb in the building and all survivors would be killed by a team who would be coming to the school.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, on February 16, 2015, the Marshall Police dispatch received a phone call from a person identifying himself as a 13-year-old boy named I.W., who claimed that two black men had just broken into his apartment and shot his mother in the leg. The call came from MORGENSTERN. He told the dispatcher that he was frightened and hiding in a bedroom closet, that the men were in the living room with his mother and three-year-old sister, and that he could hear the men yelling at his mother. Police responded to the call and determined it was a hoax.
Finally, according to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, on April 20, 2015, MORGENSTERN, concealing his identity, left a voice-mail message for a Marshall Police Officer who worked as a school resource officer at Marshall High School in which MORGENSTERN threatened to kill the officer’s family.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Marshall Police Department.
This case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota.
- ZACHARY LEE MORGENSTERN, 19
- Cypress, Tex.
- Threats to kill, 1 count
- 41 months in priso
- 3 years of supervised release