Man convicted of hate crime for cafe fire gets 15 years

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, September 7, 2016

FARGO, N.D. — A Minnesota man who pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for firebombing a Somali restaurant in North Dakota was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in prison.

Authorities say Matthew Gust, of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, used an explosive made from a 40-ounce beer bottle to start a fire at the Juba Coffee House in neighboring Grand Forks in December. Prosecutors say Gust did not like Somalis and did not want them living in the area.

Gust’s attorney, Ted Sandberg, said during a 90-minute sentencing hearing that Gust was trying to get even after he and a family member had been previously robbed at gunpoint while they were working at a sandwich shop. Gust, 26, believed the robbers were Somali, Sandberg said.

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“It is not an excuse. It is not a mitigating factor,” Sandberg said. “This was his way of striking back at the people who robbed him and humiliated him.”

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson, at the end of a 20-minute exchange with Gust, said the defendant’s decision to burn down the cafe over the burglary was silly since it’s not even clear if they were Somali.

“If you had been robbed by three Norwegian dudes, would you attack the Sons of Norway hall?” the judge asked.

Gust got the idea when he heard about someone spray-painting what some have described as a Nazi-like symbol on the business, along with the phrase “go home,” Sandberg said.