MN man will plead guilty to starting fire at Grand Forks Somali restaurant


The Minnesota man accused of starting a fire at a Somali-owned restaurant in Grand Forks says he will plead guilty.

Matthew Gust, 25, was charged with arson last December after investigators say he threw a 40-ounce beer bottle filled with gasoline through the window of the Juba Coffee House and Restaurant, causing roughly $90,000 in damage.

Gust faces two charges and a maximum sentence of 35 years –five years for malicious use of explosive materials and 30 years for use of a destructive device during a crime of violence, Forum News reported.

He pleaded not guilty in federal court to both the first charge in January, and the second charge in March.

Now his attorney has filed notice in federal court that Gust will plead guilty to two counts, the Pioneer Press reports. The plea deal calls for a sentence of 15 years in prison.

Defense attorney Ted Sandberg told the Associated Press Tuesday that any racial overtones were overblown by people who aren’t familiar with the case.

Days prior to the fire, the store was vandalized with graffiti including the words “go home” and a symbol used in Nazi Germany.

Investigators have said they’re not sure whether the vandalism was connected to the fire, but members of the community called it a hate crime.

Court records show that a change of plea hearing has not been scheduled, according to Forum News.

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