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Press Release

Maine Man Charged with Hate Crime Offenses for Arson of Predominantly Black Church

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A Maine man was charged today in federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts, in connection with setting the Dec. 28, 2020, fire that destroyed the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield.

Dushko Vulchev, 44, of Houlton, was charged by criminal complaint with four counts of damage to religious property involving fire and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony. Vulchev is currently in state custody and will make an initial appearance in federal court in Springfield at a later date.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield has a primarily Black congregation, and the church is named in honor of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to court documents, an intentionally set fire caused extensive damage to the church in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2020. In court documents, the government alleges that Vulchev set the Dec. 28 fire. The government also alleges that Vulchev is also responsible for several other fires set on church property and for a series of tire slashings on church property and in the surrounding area. The additional fires alleged include a fire at the backdoor of the church on Dec. 13, 2020, and two additional fires near the rear door of the church on Dec. 15, 2020. The investigation, including the review of security videos and location data from Vulchev’s mobile telephone, showed Vulchev at or near the scene of many of the alleged crimes, including the Dec. 28, 2020, fire that severely damaged the church.

In addition, according to charging documents, a subsequent search of Vulchev’s vehicle and electronic devices revealed messages from Vulchev demonstrating Vulchev’s hatred of Black people, including recent messages from Vulchev in December 2020 calling to “eliminate all N****s.” In addition, the devices contained images demonstrating Vulchev’s racial animus toward Black people.

The charge of damage to religious property involving fire provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of use of fire to commit a federal felony provides for a sentence of at least 10 years in prison, in addition to any sentence received for the other charged crimes. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Acting U.S Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell of the District of Massachusetts;  Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta of the FBI Boston Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Kelly Brady of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF)'s Boston Field Division; and Massachusetts State Police Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey made the announcement.

Assistance was provided by Hampden District Attorney’s Office; Berkshire District Attorney’s Office; Springfield Police Department; Springfield Fire Department; Pittsfield Police Department; American International College Police Department; Houlton (Maine) Police Department; and Newington (Conn.) Police Department.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Deepika Bains Shukla, Chief of Mendell’s Springfield Branch Office, and Trial Attorneys Timothy Visser and Kyle Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The details contained in the criminal complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated April 15, 2021

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 21-331