California man arrested after threatening calls prompted manhunt

TUPD cars are captured in the basement of Dowling Hall on Feb. 15, 2022. Natalie Brownsell / The Tufts Daily

A California man who claimed to be carrying a pistol in a female student’s dorm room last May was arrested on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins’ office said, following an investigation from federal prosecutors that lasted more than 10 months.

Sammy Sultan, 48, of Hayward, Calif., was charged with making threatening communications in interstate commerce, which could result in a fine of $250,000 and up to five years in federal prison, Rollins’ office said.

The investigation that resulted in Sultan’s arrest was prompted by threatening phone calls the Tufts University Police Department received on May 28, 2021, during Tufts’ summer session of classes. Eight phone calls, which cumulatively lasted about an hour, reached TUPD between 6:38 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. and originated from a man who identified himself as “James,” according to charging documents.

The caller repeatedly claimed he was in a female student’s dorm room on the Tufts campus, hiding under a bed after escaping a hospital and in possession of a Taser and several pistols, according to a 14-page affidavit from the FBI. The caller is also said to have named several residence halls on campus, which alarmed TUPD officers.

“If the lady comes back into the room and tries to look under the bed, I have to tase her,” the caller reportedly said to Tufts police.

The threats prompted university police, along with authorities from local law enforcement agencies, to clear the residence halls near the Reservoir Quad, according to emails sent to the Tufts community that day, and to conduct a “room-by-room search of numerous buildings,” according to the affidavit.

The caller, who repeatedly requested to speak to a female officer, “engaged in an extensive discussion” about slippers and shoe-shining and simulated what authorities believed were Taser and pistol sounds in the background during his calls, according to the affidavit.

University police later reported to the FBI that they were seriously concerned the caller would commit violence, but after searching the campus, authorities were unable to locate any signs of the caller. Police activity in the area near the Reservoir Quad concluded by 12:30 p.m., according to an email sent to the community.

Subsequent investigation by TUPD and the FBI led officials to believe the calls were made by Sultan near his Hayward, Calif., home. An FBI special agent, who had listened to more than 20 hours of Sultan’s phone calls from a previous investigation, recognized Sultan’s voice on the phone recordings.

“We’re gratified that the excellent police work of our TUPD officers helped lead to this arrest,” Yolanda Smith, Tufts’ executive director of public safety, wrote in a statement to the Daily. “The threatening communications that day caused a great deal of worry and disruption within our community and among our neighbors, and the actions of our TUPD officers who took immediate steps to protect the Tufts community, aided by support we received from our local and state law enforcement partners, was critical in ensuring the safety of our campus.”

Sultan has a criminal history that dates back to at least 2017, when a federal investigation found he had made hundreds of “obscene and harassing” phone calls to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, Canada and Great Britain, according to the affidavit. Sultan was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to the charges. He was released in June 2019.

Sultan appeared in federal court in the Northern District of California on Friday, Rollins’ office said, and he is expected to appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.


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