CLEVELAND — A Tennessee man was charged with threatening to burn down the home of an Ohio congressman during the health care debate.
James Schmidlin, 40, of Cleveland, Tenn., was arrested Thursday night and charged with making an arson threat by phone against Democratic U.S. Rep. John Boccieri of the Canton area. The federal indictment was unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, Ohio.
The threatening call was made around March 4 amid the heated congressional debate on President Barack Obama’s health care plan, according to the charges. Boccieri was one of eight Democrats who switched positions and voted for the president’s proposal.
Boccieri said in a statement that it’s important that public debates in America “do not descend into acts of violence.” He said he trusted the legal system to handle the matter appropriately.
At a Friday court hearing in Chattanooga, U.S. Magistrate Bill Carter agreed to release Schmidlin on bond pending his appearance Wednesday before a federal judge in Ohio. Carter said records show Schmidlin has no prior criminal record.
The judge agreed to the bond request after defense attorney Anthony Martinez said he personally knows Schmidlin, who has a master’s degree in divinity, through church activities.
Martinez told the judge that Schmidlin is charged because of an apparent “stupid, dumb mistake.” He said the FBI first contacted Schmidlin in March and that he has shown since then that he is not a flight risk and not a danger to the community.
Schmidlin did not enter a plea at the Friday hearing.
Standing handcuffed and shackled, he told the judge he would not have contact with anyone involved in the case and would not make any threats.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Piper objected to bond, describing the case as serious and telling the judge “it takes very little to buy a can of gas and a book of matches ... little to buy a hand gun.” FBI agent Paul Healy also testified that Schmidlin was “argumentative” when arrested in the Tennessee community about 25 miles north of Chattanooga.
Carter agreed with Piper that the case is serious but granted the bond request after Martinez and two church representatives vouched for Schmidlin and said he is very active in the Church of God.
“If in fact he made the call, that is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of,” the judge said.
Schmidlin’s wife, Cynthia, declined to comment after the hearing, as did the church representatives.
Associated Press writer Bill Poovey in Chattanooga contributed to this report.