BOSTON - A Springfield man was sentenced to nearly 14 years in federal prison today stemming from his role in the arson of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American church, just hours after the election of President Barack Obama.
Michael Jacques, 27, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor to 166 months in prison, to be followed by four years of supervised release. Jacques was also ordered to pay nearly $1.6 million in restitution, including $123,570 to the Macedonia Church of God in Christ.
On April 14, 2011, following a jury trial, Jacques was found guilty of conspiracy against civil rights, damage or destruction of religious property, and use of fire to commit a felony. Jacques’s co-conspirators, Benjamin Haskell and Thomas Gleason, pleaded guilty to the civil rights charges in June 2010. On Nov. 1, 2010 Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison. Gleason is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 18, 2012.
According to evidence presented at Jacques’s trial, in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of President Barack Obama being elected, Jacques and his co-conspirators burned down the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s newly-constructed building where religious services were to be held for its predominantly African-American congregation. The building was approximately 75% completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed nearly the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact.
“As evidenced in this case, hate crimes victimize not only individuals but entire communities,” said United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz. “We remain committed to protecting our communities from violence motivated by bigotry and prejudice, and ensuring that justice is served to victims. I hope that today’s sentence sends a strong message that we will bring all of our resources to bear in order to protect the civil liberties of every citizen.”
“ATF is at the forefront in the fight against violent crime,” stated Guy Thomas, Special Agent In Charge of ATF’s Boston Field Division. “Arson is an extremely violent crime that destroys lives physically and emotionally. The cowardly act of an arsonist places heroic firefighters and first responders at risk of losing their lives. An intentionally set fire on a house of worship is an attack on the founding principles of our great country. Today’s sentencing should send a strong message to those who choose violent crime to express their hate and intolerance.”
“The hate crime which Michael Jacques committed against the Macedonia Church of God in Christ stung not only the Springfield, Massachusetts region, but indeed the nation. Having been raised in Western Massachusetts, it stung me as well,” said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Boston FBI. “The FBI has investigated these types of hate crimes for nearly a century and knows the inordinate consequences such crimes have on a community, which is why we prioritize preventing and deterring such criminal acts.”
“This important investigation was brought to a successful conclusion due to the excellent cooperation of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who worked closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Commissioner William J. Fitchet of the Springfield Police Department.
U.S. Attorney Ortiz; Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; SAC Thomas; SAC DesLauriers; Colonel Marian J. McGovern, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni; and Springfield Police Commissioner Fitchet announced the sentence today.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O’Regan of Ortiz’s Springfield Office and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.