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Ethnic Intimidation Charges Filed Against Couple Accused Of Harassing Russian Neighbor

By: Shelley Bortz/KDKA-TV News

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A prominent Pittsburgh architect and his partner are facing charges for allegedly harassing a neighbor from Russia.

Last week, police asked the public for help identifying two people after Shadyside resident Vasily Potanin reported his yard signs were defaced with political and anti-national messages.

harrassing homeowners
(Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Police)

According to police paperwork, numerous eyewitnesses contacted police, identifying the pair as Lisa Haabestad and her partner Robert Pfaffmann.

Police say they spoke with Haabestad, informing her that she and Pfaffmann were the target of an ethnic intimidation investigation. Haabestad told police she would like to speak to her husband and/or their attorney before saying anything else.

According to police paperwork, officers say that the two were given until Monday to contact police, and they had not.

KDKA stopped at Pfaffmann's architecture firm Thursday. He told KDKA's Shelley Bortz to get out of his office immediately. He said he has no comment and he has an attorney.

Potanin has lived in Shadyside for four years. He said he's never had any issues in the neighborhood until the 2020 election. It started with defacing his political signs, which he didn't think much of, but when Russia invaded Ukraine, he said things took a turn for the worse.

"Just because I'm Russian, they started assuming I must like Putin because I'm his best buddy," Potanin said.

The couple is accused of defacing signs, leaving threatening mail and throwing bags of rice with hateful messages in Potanin's yard.

"Different messages, hateful messages are being sent in the mail: 'Leave our neighborhood, you owe Putin favors, you must be a spy.' And it's completely ridiculous," Potanin said.

Haabestad and Pfaffmann are both facing ethnic intimidation, criminal mischief, and criminal conspiracy charges.

Potanin said the couple also harassed his neighbor thinking he was from Russian too, but he was actually Lebanese.

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