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ROANOKE, Va. — A Citibank employee told jurors this afternoon that she couldn’t concentrate at work but was too frightened to go home after receiving an E-mail with her personal information from white supremacist Bill White.
“I was very scared, not only for myself but for my family,” said Jennifer Petsche, who works in Citibank’s Kansas City, Missouri, office.
Petsche testified on behalf of the government, which began presenting evidence today in White’s trial. White, who created and led the neo-Nazi American National Socialist Workers Party until his arrest, is charged with threatening various people with whom he disagreed. White’s defense maintains that his communications were protected speech under the First Amendment.
The E-mail Petsche received in March 2007 contained her home address, phone number and prior addresses, including that of her parents. “I understand you think you’re very tough and you think that by dragging this process out you have created me a lot of misery; that is an incorrect assessment, but I must admit I have run out of patience with you and your smug attitude,” White wrote. “I hope the fact that I’ve obviously paid someone to find you conveys the seriousness with which I take your current attitude.”
The E-mail stemmed from a credit card dispute between White and Citibank; the dispute had already been resolved, but White wanted written notification that Citibank had asked credit bureaus to remove negative information from his credit report. On March 21, he called Citibank some 50 times in an attempt to reach Petsche, according to a Citibank investigator who testified today. However, Petsche had nothing to do with the settlement agreement between White and Citibank and in fact had never had any contact with White. White eventually left a message on Petsche’s work voice mail saying he wanted to talk to her. Petsche followed up with a colleague but was told that another office would handle the matter and that she shouldn’t respond. As she was cooking dinner at home on March 22, White left a message on Petsche’s answering machine saying he had sent her an E-mail. “I was astonished,” Petsche said. “I was so surprised. In my 14 years at Citibank, I had never had a card member call me at home.”
She was sufficiently alarmed to report the call to the night supervisor at Citibank. That night, she slept poorly and wondered what was in the E-mail. When she arrived at work around 7:30 the next morning, the E-mail from White was in her inbox. In addition to her personal information, the E-mail included a comparison between Petsche and Joan Lefkow, the Chicago judge whose husband and mother were murdered in 2005. “Lord knows that drawing too much publicity and making people upset is what did in Joan Lefkow,” he wrote.
Two co-workers testified that Petsche became extremely distressed. “She was very, very emotional,” said Rachel Dixon, her supervisor. “She cried. As her manager, that was very upsetting, because that’s just not the type of person Jennifer is.”
Petsche, who’s married with an infant son, said she was nervous about testifying at White’s trial. “I have spent the last almost three years now in fear of repercussions from Mr. White and his followers,” she said.
Ray Ferris, one of White’s lawyers, suggested during cross-examination that White could have been referring in his E-mail to someone else whom he mistakenly thought was Petsche. He also characterized White’s first voice message for Petsche as a “polite” attempt to make contact.
The government will continue presenting its case tomorrow.