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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge sentenced a former Philadelphia Navy Yard worker on Thursday to six months in prison for lying to the FBI about his ties to a white nationalist group in order to obtain security clearance.
Federal authorities said Fred C. Arena, 42, lied on his application for a national security clearance and then to FBI agents who later questioned him about his association with the group Vanguard America. Arena, who changed his plea to guilty in December, told the court Thursday that he was no longer affiliated with white nationalist groups.
“I would like to say I'm not part of that stuff any more. I've realized it was stupid,” Arena said in court Thursday. “I don't believe I'm a danger or anything like that.... I got sucked into this left-right stuff and I just took it too far.”
Senior U.S. District Judge John R. Padova said the sentence should serve as a deterrent to anyone who would consider lying on applications or to agents when they sought security clearances, saying it was a serious threat.
According to court documents, Arena pleaded guilty to five counts of providing false information to federal authorities. Two of those counts were related to lying about his affiliation with Vanguard America and about having a car repossessed on his application for security clearance for a position with a safety contractor at the Navy Yard. The other three charges came from lying to FBI agents during the investigation.
Court records did not say how Arena's affiliation with the white nationalist group became known to federal investigators, but documents said Arena had chatted with at least one agent who posed as someone with similar ideals online.
Arena, who listed a Salem, New Jersey address, was denied bail late last year after federal prosecutors argued he was a danger, saying he had advocated for violence and made threats online against people who might have cooperated with investigators.
Prosecutors submitted some of those Facebook posts in their sentencing request Thursday, including one with a photo of Arena holding an assault rifle, on which he commented, “Coming to a synagogue near you soon.” They also noted that he had bragged about being involved in street brawls at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, rather than simply saying he attended.
Arena's attorney Brian Zeiger said his client was not a member of Vanguard America when he lied on the application. Zeiger said his client lied because he was living in his car and was trying to get money to be able to pay bills and support himself.
Zeiger cautioned that the punishment should not be increased “because we are so offended by his speech.”
Padova said the six-month sentence will include credit for the almost four months that Arena has been in custody. It will be followed by two years of supervised release and a prohibition from being involved in or affiliated with any group that seeks to use force to stop someone else from practicing their constitutional rights.
“What you've said is in the record, Mr. Arena,” Padova said, adding he hoped Arena meant that he was no longer involved with the group. “I'm counting on you to have been truthful.”