A Kern County man charged with making threatening telephone calls last year, including to a Planned Parenthood office on the day the United States Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision, has been arraigned in federal court, the Justice Department announced.
Nishith Tharaka Vandebona, 34, currently of Bakersfield, but who lived in Camarillo during the alleged offenses, is charged with three misdemeanor counts of threatened forcible intimidation regarding the obtaining and provision of reproductive health services under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Vandebona also is charged with two felony counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce to another organization in Ventura County.
Vandebona pleaded not guilty late Wednesday afternoon to the charges against him and a May 30 trial date was scheduled. A federal magistrate judge ordered Vandebona jailed without bond.
“Death threats are never acceptable regardless of what a person believes,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “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.”
“The Constitution gives each of us broad free speech rights, but using death threats to bully individuals or attempt to terrorize others will lead to criminal charges, as evidenced in this indictment,” said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The use of violence to intimidate an individual from exercising their rights cannot be tolerated in a free and civil society.”
According to the indictment returned on March 29 and unsealed Wednesday, from February to June of 2022, Vandebona used an internet application to create anonymous telephone numbers to make the threatening calls.
During the spring of 2022, there was news coverage that the Supreme Court was considering overturning Roe, its 1973 decision that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, after an initial draft of the new opinion was leaked.
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court published a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe and ruled that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.
That day, using an anonymous number, Vandebona left a voicemail message containing death threats with Planned Parenthood California Central Coast, a Santa Barbara-based reproductive health services organization, the indictment alleges.
On June 25, 2022, Vandebona allegedly called Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and spoke with a call center specialist. According to the indictment, Vandebona 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.”
Within an hour, Vandebona allegedly telephoned Planned Parenthood Los Angeles again and made several death threats, including “I’m gonna come in there and murder your staff.”
Prior to the alleged threats to the Planned Parenthood facilities, Vandebona allegedly called in a bomb threat in February 2022 to the office of Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), a Ventura-based non-profit organization that advocates for “zero population growth,” primarily through immigration restrictions.
Vandebona allegedly used anonymous numbers he obtained from the internet to make threatening phone calls to CAPS. In one of the calls, he said, “I’m gonna come in there and kill all of you, dude. Be careful.”
In another call to CAPS in February 2022, Vandebona said, “I’m gonna come in there, plant a bomb, and kill as many white Americans as possible. You understand that? Servicemen, families, everybody,” according to the indictment.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted, Vandebona would face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for each count of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce, and a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison for each FACE Act count.
The FBI is investigating this matter. The Santa Barbara Police Department, the Santa Monica Police Department, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office have assisted in this investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Frances S. Lewis and Julius J. Nam of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section are prosecuting this case.
Anyone who has information about incidents of violence, threats, and obstruction that target a patient or provider of reproductive health services or damage and destruction of reproductive health care facilities, should report that information to the FBI at www.tips.fbi.gov.
For more information about clinic violence, and the Department of Justice’s efforts to enforce FACE Act violations, please visit www.justice.gov/crt/national-task-force-violence-against-reproductive-health-care-providers.