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SANTA FE – An Albuquerque man is facing federal charges for allegedly sending threatening emails to former U.S. Senate candidate Mark Ronchetti and his family.
Stephen Yochim, 48, made his initial court appearance this week on charges of sending threatening interstate communications.
Ronchetti, who recently returned to work as a meteorologist for KRQE-TV after losing a November race against Democrat Ben Ray Luján, said Thursday the messages crossed a line.
“My thought was, ‘I’ve got to protect my family,’ ” Ronchetti said in an interview, explaining his decision to refer the emails to law enforcement authorities. “To say this is what politics is, I don’t accept that.”
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Yochim sent several emails this month to Ronchetti and his wife that threatened physical violence and included the use of ethnic slurs.
When interviewed by investigators, Yochim said the messages were a “harmless prank” that went too far, according to the complaint.
While the email messages in question were allegedly sent in Albuquerque, they passed through out-of-state servers before arriving in Ronchetti’s and his wife’s work inbox folders. That gave federal investigators grounds to charge Yochim with sending threats via interstate commerce.
“Those who engage in online threats and harassment cross a line and they should know that they will be subject to prosecution,” Fred Federici, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, said in a Thursday statement.
While Ronchetti ran as a Republican in last year’s U.S. Senate race, New Mexico Democrats have also faced threats in recent months.
A 33-year-old man who posted a series of threats on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s official Facebook page was sentenced in August to more than a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of interstate transmission of threatening communication.
Meanwhile, a top federal law enforcement official in Albuquerque said those who send malicious threats will be aggressively investigated.
“The type of behavior the defendant is accused of committing is unacceptable,” said James Langenberg, the special agent in charge of the Albuquerque FBI Division.
A preliminary hearing in the case against Yochim has been scheduled for Jan. 26, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico.