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In response to the shocking video of the apparent murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, people across the country have protested against police brutality and racism. Most of the protesters have been peaceful and well-intentioned, though some have unfortunately used the occasion as an opportunity for violence and looting. Recently, three people were notably arrested and charged in federal court in Brooklyn (the Eastern District of New York) for federal crimes relating to the use of explosive Molotov cocktails against NYPD vehicles. Samantha Shader, a woman from upstate New York, was arraigned on Monday and charged with Causing Damage by Fire in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). Astonishingly, two New York attorneys – Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman – have also been arrested for similar conduct and are presently awaiting their arraignment in federal court on presumably the same charge. It’s an unusual charge to see in federal court, but also an extremely serious one.

18 U.S.C. § 844(i) makes it a federal crime punishable between 5 and 20 years to “[m]aliciously damage[] or destroy[], or attempt to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” (The penalties are higher when public safety officers sustain injuries).

According to the complaint (as well as video footage available on the Internet) – Ms. Shader allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail (a bottle of flammable beer containing a burning rag or cloth) through the window of a police vehicle while it was occupied by four police officers. Thankfully, no police officers were injured. According to the publicly-available complaint filed against her, Ms. Shader has also admitted to the conduct. In addition, it is alleged that just a few hours later, the two aforementioned lawyers threw similar Molotov cocktails into an empty NYPD vehicle in Brooklyn.

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The Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo recently earned an excellent result for our client in Brooklyn federal court (the Eastern District of New York). Our client was originally arrested at JFK Airport in 1990 and charged with lying to a U.S. Customs agent about a significant amount of cash that he had in his possession at the airport. Federal prosecutors indicted him for two criminal charges related to this deception, in violation of 31 USC 1536(b) and 18 USC 1001. However, rather than return to court and defend himself, he returned to his home country and remained there for the next 28 years (note: he was not our client in 1990). Later, in 2018, he attempted to come back to the United States to visit his family but was arrested at the airport pursuant to a 1990 warrant for failing to appear in the Brooklyn federal court as required.

The sentencing range for the original criminal charges under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines was 12-18 months (Base Offense Level of 13 with a two level increase for obstructing justice offset by a possible two level reduction for acceptance of responsibility following a guilty plea). Of course, the client also now faced the possibility of additional criminal charges and penalties for acting as a fugitive and failing to appear in court.  The prosecution initially submitted a proposed plea agreement whereby the client would receive a sentence of between 12-18 months in prison.

However, the attorneys at The Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo presented to the federal prosecutor considerable mitigating evidence of our client’s life story and family, as well as circumstances surrounding his original crimes. Ultimately, the prosecutors agreed to allow the client to plead guilty to the second count of the original indictment and avoid additional charges for acting as a fugitive. The second count of the indictment carried a 0-6 month Guidelines sentence, representing a considerable savings on the original 12-18. Then, we were able to persuade the judge to schedule an expedited sentencing hearing and ultimately to sentence our client to time served. Thus, instead of receiving a sentence of between 12-18, as it originally appeared our client would, our client received a sentence of less than four months. Obviously, the client is quite happy with the result.

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