LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Bakersfield man was behind bars Thursday on federal charges of making telephone threats to Planned Parenthood facilities in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections offered under Roe v Wade.
Nishith Tharaka Vandebona, 34, pleaded not guilty late Wednesday afternoon to three misdemeanor counts of threatened forcible intimidation regarding the obtaining and provision of reproductive health services, along with two felony counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
He was ordered to remain jailed without bond pending a tentative May 30 trial date.
According to prosecutors, on June 25, 2022, the day after the Supreme Court issued its decision, Vandebona allegedly called Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and said, "I'm calling to let you know that I'm going to come in there and kill all of you, including your staff and your security. You got it? You're overdue for an attack."
He allegedly called back again within an hour and made more death threats, saying, "I'm gonna come in there and murder your staff."
Prosecutors contend that on the previous day, Vandebona left a voicemail message containing death threats with Santa Barbara-based Planned Parenthood California Central Coast.
The defendant allegedly used an internet application to generate anonymous phone numbers that were used to make the calls, prosecutors said.
He also allegedly phoned in a bomb threat in February 2022 to Californians for Population Stabilization, a Ventura-based nonprofit that advocates for immigration restrictions to control population growth, prosecutors said.
"Death threats are never acceptable regardless of what a person believes," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. "No one should be threatened with death or bodily harm simply because they provide health services or work for a nonprofit. This indictment serves as a warning that there will be significant repercussions especially for anyone seeking to intimidate those seeking and providing reproductive health services."
Sue Dunlap, president/CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, issued a statement calling threats made to abortion-service providers since the Supreme Court decision "horrifying."
"Whether it is online or on the sidewalks in front of health centers, violent rhetoric and imagery create an environment where criminal acts can and do occur," Dunlap said. "The threats that led to today's arraignment are part of a pattern of hate, dismissal, and ignorance directed at patients, families, and medical providers. Planned Parenthood Los Angeles is grateful to the FBI for pursuing this crime diligently and intentionally, and for holding people accountable for their actions."
If convicted, Vandebona faces up to a year in federal prison for each of the three misdemeanor counts, and up to five years for each of the two felonies.