Web Update – Feb. 10, 3:00 p.m.
Michele Catalano, Manny Pintado’s sister, provided the Collegian Tuesday evening with further information about Mr. Pintado, the University of Massachusetts student suspected of threatening a Florida lawmaker and his family over a contentious immigration bill. Catalano said she is not a resident of Bergen County, N.J., although her phone number is registered to that area code, but that she is a resident of New Jersey. She also said that, despite reports from David Entin, a friend and fellow parishioner of Pintado’s at First Churches Northampton, Pintado does not have a daughter at Princeton University, or a daughter at all.
A Northampton judge released University of Massachusetts student Manuel E. Pintado from custody Monday morning, allowing him to travel to Florida on his own to face charges of corruption by threat and written threat to kill or do bodily harm, which could carry a sentence of up to 20 years if the 47-year-old is convicted.
Pintado, joined by relatives, friends, UMass faculty and parishioners from First Churches Northampton, where the sociology student serves as a deacon, was facing extradition to Martin County, Fla. for allegedly threatening State Rep. William D. Snyder, a Republican involved in drafting a bill which would give Florida police broader power to check detained individuals’ identification and legal status.
Northampton District Court Judge W. Michael Goggins allowed Pintado to retract his waiver of rendition rights, meaning he voluntarily promises to travel to Florida, rather than going through a potentially lengthy and difficult legal fight to avoid being extradited by Florida authorities.
“I haven’t seen this in 27 years,” the Springfield Republican quoted Goggins as telling the court about Pintado’s legal move.
Northampton public defender Thomas Estes, representing the Ecuador-born Pintado, said Pintado initially gave up his rendition rights because he did not think he would be able to finance the trip to Florida on his own, but after members of his congregation stepped forward and offered to bankroll some of his expenses, he changed his course.
“He initially decided to waive extradition because he didn’t have any means to get to Florida on his own,” he said. “His church came out in strong support of him, and when we were in court this morning, the judge allowed him to withdraw that waiver and released him with the agreement that he’ll leave for Florida on Wednesday and turn himself in on Friday.”
In a Monday afternoon statement, Martin County Sheriff Robert L. Crowder said he was shocked and confused as to why Goggins granted Pintado the right to travel to Florida on his own.
“A death threat lodged against a public official is a very serious matter,” he said. “I am baffled as to why a Massachusetts judge would negate the bond amount on a warrant issued against a man threatening to do harm and having the ability to do harm to Representative Snyder and his family. These are serious allegations placed against a man who is no stranger to law enforcement, serious enough that a Martin County Judge ordered he be held on a very high bond amount.”
Crowder said Florida authorities are worried Pintado will not turn himself in.
“We have grave concerns that Pintado will be unwilling to return to Florida on his own and, more importantly, are concerned that there again exists a possibility that because of his release, he could potentially act upon his previous threat,” he said.
Crowder said that if “Judge Goggins had not ordered Pintado’s release, he would have been in custody at the Martin County Jail by tonight.”
Because Estes is a public defender, he said he will not be representing Pintado when he faces charges in Martin County, located in Southeast Florida near Port St. Lucie.
Estes said he believes Martin County officials were less than pleased with Goggins’ ruling.
“The officers are actually at [Bradley] airport waiting for confirmation that Mr. Pintado has purchased his tickets to travel to Florida,” he said.
Estes explained individuals facing extradition have several choices. One, he said, is “do nothing,” or wait in jail until the so-called demanding state issues a governor’s warrant allowing authorities from that state to retrieve a suspect. Estes said defendants usually only choose this option when they are facing highly serious charges like rape or murder and need time to prepare their defense.
A second option, he said, is “you can post bail and make your own way to the demanding state within a certain amount of time, usually 30 day or so, but in this case it was more quickly than that.”
Last, Estes continued, defendants can waive their extradition rights, and the demanding state “has a certain amount of time to come and get you.”
What was unusual in this instance, Estes went on, was that Pintado received information while being held at the Hampshire County House of Corrections in Northampton last week that his congregation at First Churches would help fund his legal fight. This information reversed his legal course, and Judge Goggins agreed that, had Pintado known he would have benefactors wiling to help him, he would not have waived his extradition rights.
“What was very, very unusual about this was that the judge agreed with my argument that there was information that existed last week that, had Mr. Pintado known, would have changed the result,” he said. “He had no idea that his church was going to be so supportive, the courtroom was literally full of his church parishioners offering moral and monetary support, it was amazing, I’ve never had so many people show up for a client before.”
Pintado was arrested last Monday night in Northampton after Florida authorities contacted police there and asked for their help in finding him. Martin County Sheriff’s Department deputies had traced the unsigned emails sent to Snyder by Pintado through the public access wireless Internet at the Starbucks in downtown Northampton. They arrested him without incident at his Hampton Street apartment around 8 p.m. last Monday evening.
Sam Butterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.