WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury sitting in the Northern District of Ohio today charged Ronald J. Pudder with intentionally damaging, destroying and attempting to destroy religious property because of the race, color and ethnic characteristics of individuals associated with that property, and for willfully and knowingly using fire to commit a felony offense.
The two-count indictment alleges that on or about May 20, 2010, Pudder set fire to the First Azusa Apostolic Faith Church of God in Conneaut, Ohio.
The charges carry maximum potential penalties of 20 years for the destruction of religious property, and a mandatory minimum 10 years for the arson. Pudder faces a maximum fine of $500,000.
“The freedom to practice one’s faith in peace has been a fundamental right from the time of our nation’s founding,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Those who use threats and violence to prevent others from exercising this right will be brought to justice.”
“Setting fire to a church is an act that not only endangers people and property, it strikes a blow at the heart of the community. Doing so based on the parishioners’ race is an act that does violence to who we are as Americans and Ohioans,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
“Hate crimes have no place in a civilized society and will be met with the full force of the U.S. government,” said C. Frank Figliuzzi, Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland FBI field office.
This case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Dettelbach, along with Patricia A. Sumner, Trial Attorney with the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney James V. Moroney, following an investigation by the Painesville Resident Agency of the Cleveland FBI and the Conneaut Ohio Police Department.
An indictment is only is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.