By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

A federal grand jury indicted Dushko Vulchev, 45, of Houlton, Maine, on four counts of damage to religious property involving fire and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony. Vulchev was indicted for his connection with a fire that destroyed a predominantly Black church in Springfield, Mass.

Authorities charged Vulchev in April 2021, four months after the December 28, 2020 fire at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church.

Court documents revealed that the fire, which caused significant damage to the building, was related to previous acts of arson and malicious damage to vehicles that occurred on church property and the surrounding area.

Those incidents included a fire at the backdoor of the MLK Church on Dec. 13, 2020, and two additional fires at the rear of the church on Dec. 15, 2020.

In a news release, authorities later determined that Vulchev was the culprit after reviewing video surveillance.

According to court documents, during a search of Vulchev’s vehicle, multiple electronic storage devices containing images demonstrating Vulchev’s racial animus toward Black people, including a “White Lives Matter” mural and a photo of Adolf Hitler in a tracksuit were seized. Vulchev’s electronic devices also allegedly contained messages revealing Vulchev’s hatred of Black people dating back several years, with Vulchev’s recent messages from December 2020 calling to “eliminate all N****s.”

Furthermore, individuals familiar with Vulchev told law enforcement that Vulchev frequently displayed racial animus towards non-Whites and routinely referred to Black people using a racial epithet.

If found guilty, the charge of damage to religious property involving fire provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

The charge of use of fire to commit a federal felony provides for a sentence of at least 10 years in prison, in addition to any sentence received for the other charged crimes.

Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

The news release revealed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has selected Chief of the Springfield Branch Office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deepika Bains Shukla, and Trial Attorney Kyle Boynton of the Civil Rights Division to prosecute the case.

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