A Biddeford man has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for two racially motivated attacks against Black men in 2018.

A jury convicted Maurice Diggins in March of two counts of committing hate crimes and one count of conspiracy in connection with separate assaults on Black men in Portland and Biddeford. The hearing was held Tuesday morning via Zoom.

Maurice Diggins, left, and Dusty Leo York County Jail photos

His nephew, Dusty Leo, faced similar charges stemming from the same assaults and pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy and one count of committing a hate crime. Leo has yet to be sentenced, but in a plea deal agreed not to appeal a sentence of less than four years, indicating prosecutors will not seek more time than that.

Diggins and Leo are both white. 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.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen called the crimes “among the most serious I have seen.” As she explained her reasons for the sentence, she described both physical and psychological effects on the victims.

“You caused damage to the entire minority community,” Torresen said. “This type of offense has an emotional toll and deeply affects their sense of security and safety. And you also damaged the larger community. That such bigotry and violence could be found within Portland and Biddeford city limits damaged the reputation of those communities as well.”

Court documents and testimony described the two attacks in the early morning hours of April 15, 2018.

Diggins and Leo approached three Black men outside a bar in Portland’s Old Port shortly before 1 a.m. Diggins hit one man, breaking his jaw. When the man tried to run away, Diggins and Leo followed him and shouted racial epithets. The prosecutor said Diggins also knocked out another man from the group.

Diggins and Leo then drove to Biddeford. They stopped at a 7-Eleven there, and Diggins confronted a Black man who was outside the convenience store. While he blocked the man’s path, Leo approached the man from behind and hit him, also breaking his jaw. Diggins and Leo also used racial epithets and tried to chase the man in their truck as he ran away.

Both victims underwent emergency surgery and had their jaws wired shut for weeks as part of their recovery. They testified at trial about the surprise attacks, and one said he has since moved out of Biddeford because he no longer feels safe there. Neither man spoke at the sentencing hearing, but the federal prosecutor described the impact on them and their families.

“For what appears to have been defendant Diggins’s own amusement, three minority men who were doing nothing but minding their own business had their lives turned upside down by an unprovoked attack,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Visser wrote in his sentencing memo. “Two of those men suffered significant injuries that required surgery to repair. Each man was left with scars that he will carry for the rest of his  life. In addition to the physical pain and trauma, the victims must now live with the knowledge that they were targeted for violence because of their race. The lifelong psychological trauma accompanying that realization cannot be overstated.”

Visser asked the judge to impose the 120-month sentence. He also requested three years of supervised release and restitution of more than $15,000 to a victim’s compensation fund. Torresen agreed to both.

Defense attorney David Benemen requested a lesser sentence of seven years. He described a childhood marked by neglect, poverty and early drug use. He said Diggins met “hateful people” in prison and there got the tattoos that played a significant role in the trial. An expert testified that the swastikas and racist slogans on his body were evidence of white supremacist beliefs.

But Beneman said Diggins was working toward sobriety and stability for his family, and those old tattoos do not reflect the type of person Diggins has become later in his life.

“Maurice has since shown he is able to rise above his lack of upbringing and his past,” Beneman wrote in his memo. “He was doing well and the events of this case are a ‘relapse.’ When we look at the nature and circumstance of the offense and the offender we see bad in the conduct yet signs of good in Maurice. Too long of a sentence fails us all. Ten years is too long. Maurice and society both need Maurice to recover, to get treatment, and to rebuild his life.”

Diggins, who is now 36, apologized to the men he hurt and said he wants to cover up his tattoos.

“No one should have to live in constant fear,” he said. “This is 2020 in America. Different is great. I truly am sorry, and I want you to know that this has opened my eyes. This will never happen again.”

But Torresen recalled a phone call Diggins made to his wife while he was awaiting trial. During their recorded conversation, Diggins suggested that many Mainers share the racial views of former governor Paul LePage and that would protect him from being found guilty of a hate crime.

“Listen to Gov. LePage,” Diggins said, referring to comments LePage made in early 2016 about drug dealers from Connecticut and New York coming to Maine sell drugs and impregnate “white girls.”

“They’re coming up here, getting our women pregnant and selling our kids drugs,” is how Diggins put it to his wife. “Gov. LePage said that … he’s the racist, not me.”

At the time, LePage issued a statement that called the comments from that call “vile” and “repugnant.”

That conversation, the judge told Diggins on Tuesday, “reflects how you really feel and who you really are.”

“You act out against others not like yourself in order to make yourself feel that you’re better than they are,” Torresen said. “It’s a feeling of inferiority that has caused you to adopt the credo of white supremacy.”

Diggins has the right to appeal his conviction and sentence.

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