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Press Release

Former Concord Resident Pleads Guilty To Religious Hate Crime

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Defendant Admits Setting Fire to Pittsburg, California, Church in 2010

OAKLAND - Hugo John Scherzberg pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland to committing a religious hate crime in relation to the March 20, 2010, fire at a church in Pittsburg, Calif., announced Acting United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder.

In pleading guilty, Scherzberg, 48, formerly of Concord, admitted to using gasoline and a lighter to set fire to the Church of the Living God, Christian Workers for Fellowship, Temple #21 (Workers Fellowship) located on Harbor Street in Pittsburg.  Scherzberg admitted he set fire to the church because he felt God had dealt him a poor hand in life.  He also admitted he chose the Pittsburg church in particular because it had the words “Living God” in its name and it was “readily accessible.”  At the time of the fire, a separate congregation, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, also rented the church building for religious services.  Scherzberg admitted that his actions caused significant damage to the entire church building and property within the building, and that almost the entire church building required reconstruction.  Losses totaled more than $490,000, according to insurance claims.  Scherzberg agreed to make restitution for these losses.

Scherzberg was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 5, 2015, on one count of burning the church building because of its religious character, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 247(a)(1) and (d)(3), and on a second count of arson of a building used in activities affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i).  Under Monday’s plea agreement, Scherzberg pleaded guilty to the first charge.

Scherzberg currently is being held in the custody of the United States Marshals.

Scherzberg’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 28, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. before the Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., U.S. District Judge, in Oakland.  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 (or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense, whichever is greater), plus restitution.  However, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Vanessa Quant, Trina Khadoo, and Stephanie Mitchell.  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 April 19, 2017

Hate Crimes