For Immediate Release - December 27, 2013

Somerville Man Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to Jail for Harassment of MBTA Employee

Defendant Previously Engaged in Bias-Motivated Attack on MBTA Riders

BOSTON – A Somerville man has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to jail in connection with a pattern of racially-motivated harassment and threats against an MBTA employee, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

Joseph Balistreri, 39, pleaded guilty today in Suffolk Superior Court to charges of Violation of a Permanent Injunction (3 counts), Threats (2 counts), and Criminal Harassment (1 count). After the pleas were entered, Superior Court Judge Carol Ball sentenced Balistreri to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction for the harassment charge, and two years of probation on all of the remaining charges.

“This defendant engaged in multiple bias-motivated incidents that threatened an individual because of his race,” AG Coakley said. “Today’s sentence shows that hate crimes will not be tolerated as we continue to work to protect the safety of our communities.”

“This type of conduct can’t go unpunished,” MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan said.  “We will not tolerate harassment of our dedicated public servants, who work hard to provide safe and reliable MBTA services to millions of people each week.”

The AG’s Office previously obtained an injunction against the Balistreri after he engaged in a bias-motivated attack on two MBTA riders in 2010. The Civil Rights Division of the AG’s Office obtained the injunction through a final judgment by consent after he engaged in an unprovoked physical and verbal assault on two female undergraduate students that was motivated by racial and homophobic bias. 

The AG’s Office obtained the injunction under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA), commonly referred to as the “hate crimes” statute. Under the MCRA, the AG’s Office may obtain injunctions against individuals who threaten, intimidate, or coerce victims because of their membership in a protected class – race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, for example – or because they are engaged in a protected activity, such as exercising their right to vote or associate. The injunction specifically prohibited Balistreri from violating the civil rights of the victims in that case and all others in the Commonwealth based upon race or sexual orientation.

Beginning in the summer of 2012 Balistreri allegedly engaged in multiple incidents of bias-motivated threats and harassment against an African-American MBTA employee. All of these incidents occurred at Sullivan Station on the MBTA Orange Line.

According to authorities, Balistreri initially targeted the MBTA employee after being asked to extinguish his cigarette in a non-smoking area of Sullivan Station. Balistreri allegedly threatened and harassed the MBTA employee, using racial epithets, on multiple occasions through February 2013 when asked to stop smoking on MBTA property.

In March 2013, Balistreri was observed punching a Charlie Card machine. When asked if he needed assistance, Balistreri allegedly verbally assaulted the MBTA employee and threatened him. Authorities allege that one week later Balistreri was observed taking pictures of the MBTA employee. When the employee confronted him, Balistreri allegedly responded with racial epithets and further stated that he and his friends would kill him. 

Indictments were returned against Balistreri on June 7. Balistreri was arraigned on June 21 in Suffolk Superior Court where he pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on $10,000 bail.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Marina Moriarty and Jennifer Scully with assistance from Victim Witness Advocate Ashley Cinelli and the MBTA Transit Police.


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