Santos Colon, Jr., 17, of Lindenwold, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today as an adult to an information charging him with one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord and Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick made the announcement. The plea was entered before U.S. District Court Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Colon, a U.S. citizen, admitted that from June 30, 2015, to Aug. 14, 2015, he devised a plan to conduct an attack during the September 2015 papal visit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Colon engaged someone he believed would be the sniper, but in reality was an undercover FBI employee.
Colon engaged in target reconnaissance with an FBI confidential source and instructed the source to purchase materials to make explosive devices.
FBI agents arrested Colon in 2015.
Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord and Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited Special Agents of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Harpster in Philadelphia, with the ongoing investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
Colon faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross amount of any financial gain or loss from the offense.
The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes.
If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. No date has been set for sentencing.
This case is being prosecuted by Attorney in Charge R. Stephen Stigall of the Camden Branch Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey; Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick C. Askin of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey; and Trial Attorney C. Alexandria Bogle of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
For six days, during the pope’s first visit to U.S. soil took him to Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where he visited the White House, U.S. Capitol, Madison Square Garden, Ground Zero, Independence Hall and several other stops in between.
Millions of people lined the streets and filled venues just to get a glimpse on Pope Francis.
(Pope Francis met with prisoners at a Philadelphia correctional facility on Sept. 27, 2015 the final day of his U.S. visit. Courtesy of Catholic News Service and YouTube)
The security portion of the operation was coordinated by the Secret Service, who combined its resources with HSI and other agencies. The FBI was the lead agency collecting intelligence, so that in the event of a crisis, the FBI would manage the response.
For months, the Secret Service, HSI and other law enforcement partners worked together to ensure the safety of everyone who traveled near and far to see and hear the pope.
Meetings were held, subcommittees were created and assignments were handed out to ensure that the Holy Father’s movements took place without a hitch.
For HSI, agents were assigned to various points of duty during the papal visit. HSI was tasked with various roles from providing personnel to support venue security to augment dignitary protection.
Agents were spotted at local command centers, airports, along the parade routes and within arm’s length of Pope Francis.
“HSI is unique in that the skill sets our agents possess can actually supplement the Secret Service,” said HSI New York Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Richard Jolles, whose area of responsibility also had to prepare for the General Assembly of the United Nations. “We were involved in every aspect of the process.”
In preparation for the pope’s arrival, the logistical challenge of the planning was unlike anything many had experienced in their years with ICE.
Once it was established that HSI would have a presence in the security operation at various points of duty, not only did the agency have to confirm the availability of hundreds of agents, but the agents themselves were responsible for booking their travel to the various locations, bringing the necessary equipment, packing the proper attire and getting from one city to the next during the pope’s visit.
“We controlled what we could control,” said HSI Philadelphia ASAC Brian Michael.
HSI was entrusted to effectively complete the various tasks assigned – a testament to the great work of the agency.
“If anyone has had an operation that was this labor intensive, I haven’t seen it,” said David Atwood, ASAC HSI Washington, DC & Virginia. “For me being at the first stop [of the pope’s trip] and having to account for every move of our agents coming to our city was challenging.”
The Papal visit brought a sense of pride to those who had the opportunity to see the pontiff up close. For those involved behind the scenes protecting him, there was a similar feeling.
According to HSI Baltimore SAC Andre Watson, it was great to see agents he knew on CNN and other news outlets standing on post in the crowd during the pope’s movements. Some were recognizable by face, while others stood out with their “HSI.”
“A lot of people learned what HSI is,” Michael said. “Several people came up to me and asked ‘what is HSI?’ We had a very large and visible presence and our folks definitely took on a leadership role.”
Months of preparation went into what proved to be a successful mission and all who were in involved were pleased to be a part of this historic mission.
“I’m very proud of the work we accomplished and for the opportunity for our agents to be ambassadors for the agency,” Jolles said.
“When you have an operation this large, you rely on the core skill set and we at HSI have those skills. I’m proud we were a part of this.”