Attorney pleads to criminal threatening for Wilton bomb threats
FARMINGTON - A Rumford-based attorney pleaded no contest to two counts of criminal threatening in Franklin County District Court Friday afternoon, receiving a suspended prison sentence after admitting to calling in a pair of bomb threats which evacuated two Wilton schools earlier this year.
Ronald Hoffman, 53, of Sumner, pleaded no contest to two counts of criminal threatening, a Class D misdemeanor, as part of a sentencing arrangement with the Somerset County District Attorney's Office. Under the terms of the deal, Hoffman was sentenced to two consecutive prison sentences of 364 days, both suspended with a year of administrative release. That effectively means that Hoffman will serve no initial time in jail, but will have roughly two years of a Department of Corrections sentence hanging over his head. He will also pay restitution to Mt. Blue Regional School District, Farmington Fire Rescue and the Wilton and East Dixfield Fire Departments, covering the monetary costs of the March 29 bomb threat evacuations.
According to the facts the state says would have been presented as evidence had the matter proceeded to trial, Assistant District Attorney Brent Davis said that the calls came into G.D. Cushing School, then Academy Hill School on the morning of March 29, with the first call taken at 9:23 a.m. A male caller told both secretaries that "there is a bomb in your school" and both schools evacuated.
Educators and administrators described the confusion, stress and fear of the evacuations on students, staff and parents to Justice Nancy Mills. Students could not be evacuated to the neighboring school, and instead had to wait for buses to take them to Farmington facilities for the day.
"Some students worried that the person who made the bomb threat would find them at Cascade Brook School and try to hurt them," Principal Darlene Paine wrote in a victim's impact statement provided to the court. "They were worried about being safe when they came back to their Wilton Schools."
School officials also pointed out that the threats affected staff and parents as well. Some questioned why Hoffman had not been charged with felony terrorizing, rather than misdemeanor criminal threatening.
Wilton and state police began investigating the calls, tracing them back to a disposable cellphone purchased at the Walmart in Mexico on March 28. Footage from that Walmart was reviewed by Maine State Police Det. Randall Keaton, who recognized Hoffman. Meanwhile police learned that the phone had been used from a McDonald's in Rumford and questioned Hoffman. He denied being in that part of Rumford on the morning of March 29, instead saying he had purchased the cellphone, was unable to get it to work and threw it out. Footage taken from that McDonald's by police indicated that he had in fact been there.
Hoffman's attorney, James Martemucci, said the biggest question he had been asking himself leading up to the hearing was "how do you explain an irrational act?"
Hoffman, Martemucci said, suffered from multiple medical diseases, including Graves' Disease, a hormonal deficiency disorder. In March, Hoffman was taking 10 different medications prescribed by doctors, as well as insulin. The combination of medications and Graves' Disease, Martemucci said, may have contributed to his actions, although Hoffman was taking full responsibility.
Neither Hoffman nor Martemucci, or the state, were able to offer a motive for bomb threats, or any reasoning behind Wilton schools being called. Hoffman and his family do not have any direct ties to the town or school system.
"There's no motive here," Martemucci said.
The conditions of Hoffman's administrative release, which will last two years under the consecutive sentencing arrangement, include taking all medication, following the advice of counselors and submitting monthly medical releases to the Somerset County DA's Office. He will pay $5,677.50 to local agencies for costs associated with the evacuations, as well as a $25 per month administrative fee. The conditions of his release all stipulate that Hoffman not return to MBRSD facilities and have no contact with the two secretaries he called on March 29.
Hoffman was emotional throughout the hearing, and addressed the court with a prepared statement. In it, he apologized, saying he had embarrassed his family, community and peers in the legal community. He also thanked the state police for their work and professionalism. His actions on March 29, Hoffman said, did not represent him as a person.
"I'm deeply affected by this," Hoffman said. "It's not who I am."
Mills accepted the plea arrangement. She noted that she had been asked to sit on the case due to her lack of legal history with Hoffman and the Franklin County region, and that the Somerset County DA's Office was representing the interests of the state for the same reason. She emphasized that Hoffman was treated "no better and no worse" due to his profession.
"I think this [sentence] is fair based on the guidelines given to me for sentencing," Mills said. She noted Hoffman had no criminal record, had expressed remorse and sought treatment for significant medical issues, all of which she cited as mitigating factors.