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Press Release

Ohio Man Pleads Guilty to Setting Fire to a Church

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

An Ohio man pleaded guilty today to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act for setting fire to a house of worship.

Benjamin Ruckel, 25, of Pickerington, pleaded guilty to a single-count information charging him with setting fire to the Mount Zion Church in Baltimore, Ohio, on Nov. 27, 2021. According to court documents, Ruckel broke into the church and spread accelerant before setting the church ablaze, causing extensive damage. During the hearing, Ruckel admitted to intentionally setting the fire because of the religious character of the church.

“The defendant in this case is being held accountable for a devastating church arson that impacted an entire community of worshipers,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The freedom to congregate in churches across our nation and the liberty to exercise one’s religious beliefs must be shielded and protected. The Justice Department is committed to protecting our houses of worship and ensuring that all people are able to freely engage in religious practice free from violence and forceful interference.”

“Every resident in the Southern District of Ohio should be free to worship without any criminal acts occurring against them or the place in which they come together to do so,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio. “Combatting these types of unlawful acts is a priority for my office, and together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to vigorously use every criminal enforcement tool at our disposal to address civil rights violations.”

“All Americans have the right to practice their religion without fear,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to defend that right and hold those individuals accountable who would prevent the free exercise of that right.”

The sentencing date has not yet been set. Ruckel faces up to 20 years in prison for the violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act.

The FBI Columbus Field Office investigated the case. 

Deputy Criminal Chief Brian Martinez for the Southern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Daniel E. Grunert of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.

Updated April 26, 2023

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 23-481