District Attorney Threat Case Draws Maximum Sentence

Attorney General Spitzer and State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett today announced that a Syracuse man who threatened the life of the Madison County District Attorney and his family has been sentenced to the maximum of seven years in state prison.

James Van Patten, 27, of Syracuse, was sentenced by Judge Biagio J. DiStefano following his conviction in Madison County Court to the crime of "Making a Terroristic Threat," a class "D" felony. During the March 2006 trial, evidence was presented proving that the defendant sent a letter to Madison County District Attorney Don Cerio in which he threatened to kill the District Attorney, his family, and other public officials, including Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, unless charges in Madison County pending against Donald Jenner were dropped. Van Patten considers Jenner to be his father.

After investigation by the State Police, the case was referred to the Attorney General for prosecution.

"Attempts to threaten or intimidate public officials will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted, and it is clear by the jury’s verdict and court’s sentence that such conduct will not be tolerated," Spitzer said.

Madison County District Attorney Don Cerio: "I am professionally and personally appreciative of the efforts of the Attorney General’s Office and the State Police in their prosecution and investigation of a case in which me and my family as well as other public officials were targets of intimidation and threats of harm."

New York State Police Superintendent Wayne E. Bennett said: "The rights of public officials are not diminished because they hold public office. Public officials have the same right as anyone else in our society to live free from fear and harm. This individual totally disregarded this right and sought to intimidate these officials in an attempt to dissuade them from their sworn duties. This verdict and sentence reinforce the fact that this type of conduct can never be tolerated."

The crime of Making a Terroristic Threat was enacted by the New York Legislature in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The prosecution of Van Patten marks the third such prosecution in New York State.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General James Mindell. The investigation was handled by State Police Investigators Mark Nell and Musco Millner, III.