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Riverside woman sentenced to 32 months in prison for "hate-filled telephone calls" to Jewish family

A Riverside woman has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison for making years worth of "hate-filled telephone calls" to a Jewish family in Florida. 

Melanie Harris, 59, was sentenced to 32 months in prison and three years of supervised released after she pleaded guilty to "knowingly and intentionally transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce," according to a statement from the United States Attorney's Office. 

She was arrested in March 2023 after more than four years of calls to unnamed victims, with whom she left threatening voicemails that were often filled with violence, antisemitic language and Jewish slurs, the statement said. 

"For over four years, Harris harassed and threatened three victims by making over two-hundred and forty calls to Victim 1, leaving messages and engaging in conversations where she unleashed anti-Semitic hate and direct threats against Victim 1, his family, and Jews in general," the statement noted.

Prosecutors say that neither of the victims knew Harris' identity during the duration of the harassment and were unsure where the calls were coming from as she used the *67 feature to block her phone number during the calls. 

"However, all of these calls originated from the Riverside, California area, where Harris lived at the time, and were received by Victim 1's phone in the Southern District of Florida," according to the statement, which also noted that she often called the victim's former church and left similar messages.

Investigators learned that one of the victims was formerly the Executive Director of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for over 20 years and that all of his family members were also associated with the church. Harris "made incessant reference to the congregants murdered in the October 2018 massacre," the statement said. 

"Defendant Melanie Harris's anti-Semitic threats terrorized a Jewish family," said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida in a statement. "Her hate-filled telephone calls and voicemails were abhorrent. No one should live in fear of threats, harassment, and hate-fueled violence. There is simply no place in our society for anyone who threatens Jews or anyone else in our diverse South Florida community. The U.S. Attorney's Office, along with our FBI partners, will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those that threaten our safety and security, while seeking justice for the victims impacted by these vile crimes."  

Members with FBI Pittsburgh, FBI Los Angeles Riverside Resident Agency, FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force and the Riverside Police Department assisted in the investigation. 

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