CLEVELAND — Retired controversial Kent State University professor Julio Pino said he was confused and afraid when he lied to federal investigators about his knowledge of comments made by a Facebook friend that threatened violence.

Pino apologized to the government, his family and others who believed in him during his sentencing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

“By making a false statement, I violated the trust the American public placed in me,” said Pino, who left his history teaching post in May. “I take responsibility for making that decision that I now deeply regret.”

Pino, 58, of Kent, pleaded guilty under an agreement with prosecutors April 26 to making a false statement to law enforcement.

Judge Patricia Gaughan sentenced Pino on Wednesday to five months in prison, five months of house arrest and three years of probation. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faced 10 to 16 months in prison or some other form of punishment for this period.

Gaughan said she will allow Pino to self-report to prison. He will remain free on bond.

Pino taught at Kent State for more than two decades. He was charged April 23 and suspended by the university the same day.

The federal charge stems from a 2015 FBI investigation into a post by one of Pino’s Facebook friends.

According to court documents, Pino’s Facebook friend — identified as J.E. in court documents — lives in St. Louis and posted numerous statements and images on social media threatening to “kill 100s of people” over child custody issues. Pino commented on this post, encouraging the statements.

“Devour them, [J.E.],” Pino wrote.

 J.E. was arrested Jan. 11, 2016, after threatening the judge involved in his child custody case. He posted on Facebook the same day, stating, “I [expletive] love Julio Pino, even if he does eventually do something that most consider horrible, I’ll still love him because I know him in a deeper way than most of you even could.”

The FBI reached out to Pino because of his connection to J.E., but Pino denied knowing him and stated “it is certainly possible that he could have heard of me and made up this conversation, invented it.”

Pino, who has a history of making anti-Israel comments, came under scrutiny before this Facebook-post incident. He was investigated in 2016 over possible ties to the Islamic State group. He denied the allegations and never faced any charges related to the investigation.

Pino also made headlines in 2011 when he yelled “Death to Israel!” at a public lecture by a former Israeli diplomat and in 2014 when he accused “academic friends” of causing 1,400 Palestinian deaths.

Warner Mendenhall, Pino’s Akron attorney, said in a sentencing memorandum that Pino has a “passion for education,” with his career focusing on Latin American history and culture. He said his client has continued his studies on a freelance basis.

Mendenhall said Pino suffers from several health problems, including gastrointestinal pain, anxiety, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and hearing loss in his left ear.

Several of Pino’s colleagues and students provided letters of support to the court.

“Whatever his activities online, whatever kind of controversy surrounds him at large, I can testify that in my years of knowing him as a colleague, he has been nothing but modest, accommodating, and friendly to me and others,” said Richard Steigmann-Gall, a Kent State history professor who has known Pino since 2000.

Kevin Heade, a 2006 Kent state graduate, called Pino “one of the best professors that I ever had.”

“Prof. Pino represents, to me, the embodiment of freedom of speech in an academic environment,” Heade said. “I know that he has created many ideological enemies through his willingness to openly discuss unpopular ideas. However, above all else, I have always known Prof. Pino to cherish and embrace the freedoms that he also exerted. I would never expect him to harm a soul.”

During his sentencing, Pino thanked those who wrote letters. He promised that he wouldn’t make the same mistake again and asked Gaughan for leniency. He said he stepped down from the teaching position he held for 26 years after his guilty plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Om Kakani said Pino “violated a trust that holds our society together.” He said Pino didn’t have a legal duty to report his friend’s Facebook comments but was required to be truthful with FBI agents investigating those comments.

Mendenhall said Pino has discontinued all of his social media accounts.

Gaughan said she finds Pino’s past social media comments disturbing.

“It makes me wonder if you are a danger to the community,” she said.

The judge, however, said she thinks Pino enjoys stirring up controversy and pointed to his lack of a previous criminal record.

Gaughan ordered Pino to have no access to the internet or to have computer monitoring software on his computers if this is recommended by his probation officer. In addition to the other penalties, Gaughan fined Pino $2,500 and ordered him to pay a $100 special assessment.

Pino declined to comment after his sentencing.

Mendenhall, in an interview outside the courthouse with journalists, said Pino retired early from the university in May. He said Pino will receive a pension, but it will be significantly less than if he had taught until he was eligible for retirement.

Mendenhall reiterated his previous comments about how Pino doesn’t promote or condone violence.

As for what Pino will do after prison, Mendenhall said his client hasn’t yet decided on his next steps.

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.