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Press Release

Man Who Set Fire to Somali Restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Matthew Gust, 26, was sentenced today to 15 years in prison for setting fire to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers of the District of North Dakota.

Gust admitted in his guilty plea that he set the Dec. 8, 2015, fire in order to intimidate and interfere with the Somali employees and patrons of the Juba Café.  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.  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 by information 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.

“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 Gupta.  “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute perpetrators of hate violence.”

“This case exemplifies the strong partnership between local, state and federal authorities working together to ensure the rights of all members of our community are protected from criminal conduct motivated by hate,” said U.S. Attorney Myers.  “The sentence handed down by the court today sends a strong message to all members of our community that such conduct will not be tolerated and that our collective response will be swift and certain.”

“The FBI remains steadfast in its commitment to investigating and apprehending those who commit crimes of violence aimed at others because of nationality, ethnicity or religious beliefs,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the FBI’s Minneapolis Division.  “The FBI will continue working with its law enforcement partners to enforce these types of violations wherever they occur.”

“There is no place for hate in our communities, and these targeted acts of violence won’t be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge James Modzelewski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) St. Paul, Minnesota, Field Division.  “ATF will continue to diligently investigate these crimes to ensure that all of our residents feel safe and welcomed.”

This case was investigated by Grand Forks Police Department, the FBI and the ATF.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan A. Healy of the District of North Dakota and Trial Attorney Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.

Updated September 6, 2016

Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 16-1008