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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

Monday, May 11, 2015

Former Concord Resident Charged With Religious Hate Crime And Arson Charges

OAKLAND – Hugo John Scherzberg made his initial appearance and was arraigned in federal court today on religious hate crime and arson charges relating to the March 20, 2010, fire at a church in Pittsburg, Calif., announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge, Joseph M. Riehl.

Scherzberg, 48, formerly of Concord, Calif., was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 5, 2015, with burning the Church of the Living God (C.W.F.F.) building in Pittsburg because of its religious character, and with arson of a building used in activities affecting interstate commerce.

Scherzberg made his appearance before the Honorable Kandis A. Westmore, U.S. Magistrate Judge, and entered not guilty pleas to the charges.  On the government’s motion, Judge Westmore ordered Scherzberg detained pending trial.  His next appearance, a status hearing, is scheduled to occur on June 8, 2015, at 2:00 p.m., before the Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam, U.S. District Judge.

The maximum statutory penalties for damaging religious property by the use of fire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 247(a)(1) and (d)(3), is 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.  The maximum statutory penalty for arson of a building used in interstate and foreign commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i), is also 20 years imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum of 5 years, and a fine of $250,000.  Restitution and an additional period of supervised release may also be ordered, if appropriate.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

An indictment contains only allegations and, as with all defendants, Scherzberg must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Vanessa Vargas Quant.  The Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice is also assisting in the prosecution.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the ATF and the Contra Costa County Fire Investigation Unit, with assistance from the San Francisco Fire Department, San Francisco Police Department, and San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Updated May 12, 2015