Guilty plea in Facebook threat

Freddie Henriquez, the 20-year-old Philadelphia man charged with using the Facebook social media site to intimidate a witness working with authorities investigating an illegal gun-buying scheme, pleaded guilty Thursday to witness intimidation.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Robert P. Coleman set sentencing for Aug. 8 and Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock said he would ask for a sentence of two to four years in prison.

Defense attorney Louis T. Savino was not immediately available for comment.

In February, Henriquez found himself Exhibit A in a public dispute between District Attorney Seth Williams and Facebook over whether it should be a “good corporate citizen” by removing Henriquez’s Facebook page, which outed the cooperating witness as a "rat" and then urging his readers to “kill rats.”

Williams’ held a news conference where he said his office had tried without success to convince Facebook to take down Henriquez’s page for violating Facebook’s own terms of use. Facebook officials said Henriquez was not violating the site’s user rules. Nevertheless, within a day of Williams’ news conference, Henriquez’s objectionable Facebook pages were taken down.

Henriquez was arrested Dec. 17 and charged with witness retaliation, witness intimidation and terroristic threats. He remains free pending sentencing on $250,000 bail.

According to Wellbrock, a Holmesburg gun seller contacted authorities early last year to report what he considered suspicious gun purchases by a young woman. In February 2012, the woman was arrested and charged in with making straw purchases — buying guns for convicted felons. The woman, who the District Attorney’s office has declined to name, made a statement and agreed to testify against her drug-dealer customers.

Wellbrock said a relative of the woman gave a copy of her statement to Henriquez and on Nov. 9 Henriquez posted all eight pages and labeled her a “rat.”

The man who allegedly gave Henriquez the statement, David Ruiz, 22, was arrested Jan. 11 on gun charges as part of the straw-purchase investigation. Wellbrock said he pleaded guilty June 19 to making false statements to illegally acquire guns and was sentenced to one to two years in prison followed by four years probation.

Five of six other people arrested in the gun trafficking scheme have also pleaded guilty, Wellbrock said.

Witness and victim intimidation has been a pervasive problem in the Philadelphia criminal justice system and the District Attorney’s office has charged more than 2,000 people for threatening witnesses since 2010.

The District Attorney himself has been the target of Facebook threats. Last September, Joshua Scott Albert, 26, an unemployed restaurant-worker-turned-blogger, was charged with using Facebook to solicit the murder of Williams and the head of the Philadelphia lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

At first Albert insisted his Facebook posts were “satire.” But after spending eight months in prison in lieu of $300,000 bail, Albert pleaded guilty to terroristic threats and harassment. He was immediately released on two years probation.