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Sep. 10—A Biddeford man has been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in two racially motivated attacks on Black men in April 2018.
Dusty Leo, 30, and Maurice Diggins, 37, were charged with federal crimes in connection with the assaults in Biddeford and Portland.
Leo pleaded guilty in February 2020 to one count of conspiracy and one count of committing a hate crime. Diggins took his case to trial the following month. A jury found him guilty of two counts of committing hate crimes and one count of conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen oversaw that trial and then sentenced Diggins to 10 years in prison. She also imposed the penalty for Leo on Friday at the federal courthouse in Portland. He also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay more than $15,000 in restitution. In explaining her decision, the judge emphasized the seriousness of the crimes he had committed.
"This type of offense takes an emotional toll on everyone of color," Torresen said. "It deeply affects their sense of security, of safety, in their homes and in the communities that they live in. And you damage the larger community as well, that such bigotry, such ignorance, such violence would be found in Biddeford, in Maine."
Leo and Diggins are both white, and Diggins is Leo's uncle. The two cases were the first prosecutions for hate crimes at the federal level in Maine since the government adopted a new hate crime law in 2009.
Torresen said she sentenced Leo differently than Diggins for multiple reasons. The judge credited Leo for taking responsibility for his crimes by pleading guilty. She also described Diggins as the leader of the two, and she called Leo "brainwashed" by his uncle.
"It is very clear to me that Mr. Diggins acted because he hates Black people," Torresen said. "He is a white supremacist. He has tattoos all over him saying the same. For you, it appears the motivation is much more complicated. First of all, I know you were intoxicated. Secondly, you were totally in the thrall of Maurice Diggins. You sought approval. You wanted to make him proud, and apparently you did make him proud when you pounded the face of an unsuspecting Black man who did you no harm."
Leo spoke in a barely audible voice when he apologized to the victims and their families.
"I just really want to say I am tremendously sorry for everything that has happened. ... I know there's no words that I can say to show how much I mean it," Leo said. "I hope that someday, in their hearts, they can believe I'm not like Maurice."
Court documents and testimony detailed the two attacks in the early morning hours of April 15, 2018.
Diggins and Leo were outside a bar in Portland's Old Port shortly before 1 a.m. Diggins hit a Black man and broke his jaw, and also used racial slurs during the attack. The two then drove to Biddeford and stopped at a 7-Eleven. Diggins confronted a Black man who was outside the convenience store, while Leo approached the man from behind and hit him. That man also suffered a broken jaw. When the man fled, Leo initially chased the man on foot, and then the two men tried to follow him in their truck while yelling racial epithets.
Both victims underwent emergency surgery and had their jaws wired shut for weeks as part of their recovery. They testified at Diggins' trial about the surprise attacks, and one said he has since moved out of Biddeford because he no longer feels safe there.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Visser asked for a sentence of 36 months, the same amount the judge imposed. He said he does not believe Leo is likely to commit another hate crime, and he felt the penalty should recognize the differences between nephew and uncle.
"We must acknowledge the damage that this inflicted to individuals, their families and their community," Visser said.
Torresen said she considered written statements from the victims, as well as the testimony she heard at trial. The victims and their families sat in the upper gallery of the courtroom, and one man's wife addressed the court but was not publicly identified in court. Leo stared straight ahead at first, but when she said she wanted him to look at her, he did. His face was obscured by a mask, but he nodded as she described the impact of the attack on her family.
"My kid should matter just as much as yours," she said. "My family should matter just as much as yours. He didn't do anything wrong to you. You still did what you did."
As part of his plea deal, Leo agreed not to appeal a sentence of less than four years. His defense attorney, Amy Fairfield, asked the court to impose a penalty of nine months and one day. She argued that Leo had a childhood marked by dysfunction and neglect, and his uncle introduced him to drinking and stealing at an extremely young age.
"This case has been an awakening for him," Fairfield said.
A crowd of family members filled the courtroom for Leo. Those who spoke described him as a hard worker and a devoted father, and they asked for leniency on behalf of his son.
"The Dusty I know is not a racist," said Nina LeClair, his son's mother. "He loves everything. He'll take the shirt off his back for anyone."
Leo has been out of custody since his arrest in 2018. The judge said she would allow him to report in November to begin his sentence at whichever facility is selected by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
"I wish you luck, Mr. Leo," she said. "I hope you can avoid the bad influences that exist in prison and remain strong. It seems to me that you have learned a lesson on this one."