Arrest made in two synagogue attacks

Arrest made in two synagogue attacks

Hate was his motive, says prosecutor

Anthony M. Graziano

The 19-year-old accused of firebomb and arson attacks on two area synagogues pleaded not guilty at his first arraignment in Hackensack Superior Court on Wednesday, while his attorney requested a change of venue outside of Bergen County for the trial.

Authorities arrested 19-year-old Anthony M. Graziano of Lodi late Monday night in connection with attacks on Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun of Paramus and Congregation Beth El in Rutherford. Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli elaborated on the events leading to Graziano’s arrest during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Paramus. Graziano allegedly used gasoline in the Paramus arson and Molotov cocktails in Rutherford. In both cases, Graziano rode his bike to the synagogues.

Graziano, who lives with his mother and siblings, is believed to have acted alone, Molinelli said. The prosecutor described Graziano, a 2010 graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School, as a loner with few friends. He did not have any relationship with either synagogue, Molinelli said, and likely chose the targets based on their proximity through an Internet search.

“There is no connection between him and any congregationist. There is no connection between him and the rabbi,” Molinelli said. “He simply Googled area synagogues, obviously taking into consideration that he would be utilizing his bike to get there, probably choosing synagogues in more residential areas….”

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli says suspect acted out of “hatred.” Josh Lipowsky

Graziano was charged with nine counts of first-degree attempted murder, one count of first-degree bias intimidation, and one count of first-degree aggravated arson in the Rutherford case, and first-degree aggravated arson, first-degree bias intimidation, and third-degree arson for the Paramus case. He likely faces between 40 and 80 years in prison, Molinelli said.

Arson is usually a second-degree offense under New Jersey law, Molinelli explained, but it becomes the first-degree offense of aggravated arson when a house of worship is involved.

“We have no doubt that the arson and the attempted murder in Rutherford were directly the result of Mr. Graziano’s hatred for people of the Jewish faith,” Molinelli said. “We believe that he did this because they were synagogues and specifically to intimidate and cause alarm or concern to people of the Jewish community.”

Graziano used empty raspberry Crush soda bottles, motor oil, duct tape, and three cans of hair spray to create the Molotov cocktails, Molinelli said. Detectives looked for stores where these items could be purchased all at once, which led them to the Rutherford Wal-Mart.

The Prosecutor’s Office on Friday released security footage of Graziano buying the ingredients for his explosives, which spurred a number of valid tips on Monday that led to his arrest late Monday night, according to Molinelli. While Molinelli spoke, video played in the background of Graziano making the purchases at the Wal-Mart and paying in cash.

“The individuals at Wal-Mart were very, very cooperative,” Molinelli said.

As for the $7,500 reward promised by the Anti-Defamation League, Etzion Neuer, acting director of the ADL’s New Jersey office, told The Jewish Standard that the reward would be paid if Graziano is convicted. Now that the prosecutor’s office has separated the graffiti incidents at synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack from the firebombings, Neuer would not commit to a reward for information on those two cases.

Graziano is “is an anti-Semite,” Molinelli said. “He is somebody who has a hatred of the Jewish faith.” The prosecutor, however, reminded attendees that Graziano is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Molinelli thanked the Jewish community for its cooperation during the investigation. He said his office continues investigating the graffiti incidents, but does not believe Graziano was involved, Molinelli said.

Neuer praised Molinelli and his department, but warned against allowing this success to lead to a relaxation of security.

“As a community, we hope that we never again have to stand together and have discussions about horrific events like firebombings and arson. It’s 2012 and these are events we hope we would never see,” he told The Jewish Standard. “While we would expect our community to breathe a little bit easier, it’s important that we do not let our relief lead to a laxity in the area of communal security, if Jewish institutions pledged to themselves and their membership to make their institutions more secure, that they follow up with this.”

Speaking with The Standard later Tuesday afternoon, Rabbi Nosson Schuman, who lives in the home attached to Beth El with his wife and five children and whose hands were burned by a Molotov cocktail that crashed through his bedroom window, thanked law enforcement for their help in capturing the alleged arsonist.

“The great fear he brought is lifted off our shoulders,” Schuman said. “We’re really glad they caught him. It’s not only a benefit for us, but for the whole tri-state area.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) congratulated Molinelli, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, and the Rutherford Police Department.

“I have faith that our criminal justice system will deal with any suspect related to these hate crimes as fairly and as expeditiously as possible,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) also praised law enforcement. “Every house of worship is a sacred place,” he said. “Individuals who might ever consider attacking a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, let alone, as was the case in Rutherford, the family home of the congregation’s religious leader are now on notice that the entire community will respond swiftly and effectively.”

Graziano’s bail was set at $5 million.

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