A jury handed a rare loss to federal prosecutors Monday by acquitting a man who had been accused of threatening the FBI and trying to force his way into one of its suburban satellite offices late last year.
Jurors found Matthew Berger, 34, not guilty of four counts of transmitting a threat and one count of threatening to assault and murder federal law enforcement officers, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. His trial began last week.
U.S. Attorney John Lausch was in the courtroom for the verdict. After it was read, Berger could be seen wiping his eyes at the defense table. Steve Greenberg, one of Berger’s defense attorneys, later called it the “correct verdict.”
“The jury recognized that this was a young man who was not a danger to anybody,” Greenberg told reporters after court.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin said Berger should swiftly be released from federal custody. However, a separate Cook County hold on Berger meant he was not expected to immediately go free, Greenberg said.
The federal case against Berger revolved around a series of calls by Berger to the FBI last December. In one, Berger allegedly said, “are you ready for what God is about to do to you?” In another, he allegedly said, “I think God’s gonna shatter your nation very soon.”
Berger also allegedly threatened to kill members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“He chose his words with care,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather McShain told jurors during closing arguments Monday. “He chose his words with purpose.”
McShain said Berger’s “almost palpable anger” culminated in a Dec. 17 incident in which Berger allegedly tried to force his way into an FBI office in Rolling Meadows.
Before entering the building, a woman who worked in a separate office there said she crossed Berger’s path in the parking lot. There, she said he told her, “I’m gonna kill you, the people in the FBI and the people in the building.” She also said he used both hands to mimic the shape of guns while he spoke to her.
However, a Rolling Meadows police officer later testified that the woman never mentioned anything to him about Berger making threats.
Security footage from inside the building showed Berger, dressed in shorts and a hoodie, knocking on an unmarked door to the FBI offices. He raised his hood over his head before a woman opened he door. Then he put his left hand on the door and appeared to try to walk in, but the woman quickly yanked the door shut.
During closing arguments, Greenberg said Berger thought he had valuable information to give the FBI. When no one would listen to him, he said Berger became frustrated. And though he may have been rude or disrespectful, Greenberg said he didn’t commit a crime.
“In this country, he can say the things that he said,” Greenberg said.