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Press Release

Former Concord Resident Sentenced To Over Three Years In Prison For Religious Hate Crime

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

OAKLAND - Hugo John Scherzberg was sentenced to 41 months in prison yesterday for his religious hate crime conviction 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.

Scherzberg, 48, formerly of Concord, admitted in his plea agreement 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 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). Scherzberg pleaded guilty to the first charge on January 13, 2016.

Scherzberg has been detained since his arrest on November 23, 2014, for setting fire to another church, the Pilgrim Community Church of San Francisco.  He was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced in state court to an 18-month jail term  for that incident before being taken into custody by federal authorities and making his first federal court appearance on May 11, 2015.  He will begin serving his sentence immediately .

The Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., U.S. District Judge, in Oakland ordered the sentence.  In addition to the term of imprisonment, Judge Gillium ordered the defendant to 3 years supervised release and $491,940.99 in restitution.  In ordering the sentence, Judge Gilliam noted, among other things, that the defendant’s actions likely created fear and terror in the community, and that this sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang prosecuted this case with the assistance of Vanessa Quant, Trina Khadoo, and Stephanie Mitchell.  The Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, also assisted 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