Department of Justice
For Immediate Release
Man Who Set Fire to Somali Restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Pleads Guilty to Hate Crime
WASHINGTON – Matthew Gust, 25, pleaded guilty today to a federal hate crime for setting fire to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers of the District of North Dakota.
According to his plea agreement, Gust admitted that he set the Dec. 8, 2015, fire in order to intimidate and interfere with the Somali employees and patrons of the Juba Café. Early that morning, he drove to a gas station and purchased a small amount of gasoline, which he used to fill a 40 oz. beer bottle, turning it into a Molotov cocktail. Gust then drove to the café, donned a face mask, punched a hole through the front window of the café, lit the Molotov cocktail, threw it through the window and fled. The Molotov cocktail exploded on impact, creating an explosion and fire that engulfed Juba Café and caused at least $90,000 worth of damages.
Gust pleaded guilty to an arson charge as well as to the hate-crime charge. He was by charged by information with those two counts on March 20, 2016. He had earlier been indicted by a grand jury for using a destructive device in the commission of a crime; that charge will be dismissed as part of his plea agreement.
“We will not tolerate violence that attempts to divide us by targeting individuals based on their national origin,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to bring to justice those who attempt to intimidate and drive out members of our community.”
“This case exemplifies the strong partnership between local, state, and federal authorities working together to ensure the rights of all members of our community are protected from criminal conduct motivated by hate,” said U.S. Attorney Myers. “In such circumstances, the response from all levels of law enforcement in North Dakota will be swift and certain.”
“Investigating these types of attacks will always remain a priority for the FBI,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the FBI’s Minneapolis Division. “Attacks such as these have no place in our society and those who would commit them should know that they will be aggressively pursued by the FBI.”
“There is no place for hate in our communities, and these targeted acts of violence won’t be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge Jim Modzelewski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) St. Paul, Minnesota, Field Division. “ATF will continue to diligently investigate these crimes, to ensure that all of our residents feel safe and welcomed.”
Gust is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 29, 2016. The hate-crime charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while the arson charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
This case was investigated by Grand Forks Police Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan A. Healy of the District of North Dakota and Trial Attorney Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.