A Delaware County man was sentenced to two to four years in state prison on Wednesday for drafting and posting online a racist email he claimed came from a county probation officer in an attempt, prosecutors asserted, to stir public outrage.
In handing down his sentence, Judge John P. Capuzzi Sr. called Nikolaos Hatziefstathiou “coldhearted” and lacking any remorse for his actions.
“You were not acting as a reporter when you created these fake, fake news stories,” the judge told Hatziefstathiou, a 28-year-old Broomall resident during the hearing in Media. “You had malice in your heart and you were out for revenge.”
Known as “Nik the Hat,” Hatziefstathiou in 2019 published a story on his website, YC News, saying a confidential source had forwarded him a racist email from a supervisor in Delaware County’s adult probation and parole department. The email, reproduced by Hatziefstathiou in his article, used the N-word and mocked the county’s Black residents.
During a four-day trial last month, prosecutors, led by Senior Deputy Attorney General Kelly Sekula, showed how Hatziefstathiou had fabricated the email, using photo-editing software and a legitimate email from his own former probation officer as a template. County detectives investigating the case found no trace of the email Hatziefstathiou referenced on the county’s servers.
A jury ultimately found him guilty of forgery, identity theft, and tampering with public records.
Hatziefstathiou’s attorney, Norm Pattis, continued to assert Wednesday that the email he had published was legitimate. He said his client was shown the message by a confidential source, who allowed him to copy the language and insert it into a photo illustration on his news site.
Pattis said Hatziefstathiou was sorry for his actions, but that he ultimately revealed the systemic racism that runs rampant in many public institutions, at one point suggesting a similarity between his client and Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager acquitted of shooting three men at a protest last year.
“What he did was shed a light on all of us, and show us something that makes us uncomfortable in our skin,” Pattis said of Hatziefstathiou.
The prosecutor called that theory “absolutely ridiculous,” and said she was appalled by Hatziefstathiou’s doubling-down on his denial even after his conviction.
“The language that that man created doesn’t exist on the county server,” Sekula told the judge. “The email does not exist. That email was not sent by a county employee. Period.”
Sekula also detailed the effect the forgery had on the county’s adult probation and parole department, especially Jeff Roney, the parole supervisor whose email Hatziefstathiou used to create the fake message.
In comments to Hatziefstathiou on Wednesday, Roney said the controversy brought him terrible anxiety and had him question whether he would lose his job or be able to find another one.
“The most important thing that can come to me for this entire ordeal is that you have been branded as a liar, a coward and as a fake journalist without an ounce of any credibility,” Roney said.
Hatziefstathiou also was found guilty of impersonating Liam Stack, a reporter for the New York Times, as well as a producer for ABC News. Posing as those journalists, Hatziefstathiou sent an email to then-District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, asking for information about an investigation into a Marple Township officer who had allegedly harassed him.
Attorneys for Hatziefstathiou, in admitting that he impersonated the reporters, argued at trial that the harassment was real, and that Copeland’s office had ignored his requests to investigate the officer because of Hatziefstathiou’s “reputation” as an investigative reporter.
At Wednesday’s sentencing, Hatziefstathiou briefly apologized for the way he reported the story but still maintained the email he posted was authentic. The judge ordered him to be taken into custody to immediately begin serving his term.
His lawyer has said Hatziefstathiou will appeal the conviction by the jury.