Thursday, December 22, 2011

Massachusetts Man Sentenced to 166 Months in Prison for Arson of African-American Church

BOSTON – A Springfield, Mass., man was sentenced to prison today in federal court for civil rights charges stemming from the arson of a predominantly African-American church in retaliation for the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States, announced the Department of Justice.   Michael Jacques, 27, was sentenced in Boston by U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor to 166 months in prison, followed by four years of supervised release.   Jacques was also ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution.  

The sentencing was announced by Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz; Guy Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) – Boston Field Division; Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Field Office; Colonel Marian J. McGovern, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni; and Springfield Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet.

On April 14, 2011, following a jury trial, Jacques was found guilty of conspiracy against civil rights, damage or destruction of religious property and use of fire to commit a felony for his involvement in the church arson.  

According to evidence presented at Jacques’s trial, in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of President Barack Obama being elected, Jacques and his co-conspirators agreed to burn down, and did burn down, the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s newly constructed building where religious services were to be held for its predominantly African-American congregation.   The building was approximately 75 percent completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed nearly the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact.     

“This sentence sends a powerful message that racial violence and intimidation have no place in our society,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez.  “The department will continue to use every tool in its law enforcement arsenal to prosecute acts of hate like this one.”

“As evidenced in this case, hate crimes victimize not only individuals but entire communities,” said U.S. Attorney Ortiz.  “We remain committed to protecting our communities from violence motivated by bigotry and prejudice, and ensuring that justice is served to victims.   I hope that today’s sentence sends a strong message that we will bring all of our resources to bear in order to protect the civil liberties of every citizen.”

 Jacques’s co-conspirators, Benjamin Haskell and Thomas Gleason, pleaded guilty to civil rights charges on June 16, and June 22, 2010, respectively.   Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison on Nov. 1, 2010.   Gleason is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 18, 2012.

The case was investigated by the ATF in Springfield; the FBI in Springfield; the Massachusetts State Police; the Springfield Police Department and the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office.   It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O’Regan of U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Civil Rights Division.

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