A federal judge Tuesday sentenced Matthew Gust, 26, to 15 years in prison for setting fire to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, according to officials.
Gust admitted that the fire was set to intimidate and interfere with the Somali employees and customers of the Juba Cafe, officials said.
“This sentence sends a clear message to those who attempt to divide our community by sowing violence and fear,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute perpetrators of hate violence.”
Early that morning, he drove to a gas station and purchased a small amount of gasoline, which he used to fill a 40-ounce beer bottle, turning it into a Molotov cocktail. Gust then drove to the café, donned a face mask, punched a hole through the front window of the café, lit the Molotov cocktail, threw it through the window and fled, according to authorities.
The Molotov cocktail exploded on impact, creating an explosion and fire that engulfed Juba Café and caused more than $250,000 in damages.
Gust pleaded guilty on May 19 to an arson charge and a hate-crime charge.
He was charged with those two counts on March 20. He had earlier been indicted by a grand jury for using a destructive device in the commission of a crime; that charge was dismissed as part of his plea agreement.
In a motion filed May, Gust’s attorney, Theodore Sandberg, asked that Gust either be released into a residential treatment facility in Grand Forks or Fargo or into his parents’ custody at their home in East Grand Forks until his sentencing August 29, according to WDAZ 8 ABC TV in Grand Forks.
“(Gust) is seeking a chance to prove himself to the court,” Sandberg wrote in the motion. “He also wants to get away from the jail. (Gust) is not seeking a free ride.”
Gust is willing to accept special conditions — drug testing, travel restrictions and a curfew — so he can be employed, Sandberg said, according to the WDAZ 8 Report.
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