South Florida Man Charged for Arson with Hate Crime Enhancement

Last week, in a Charleston, South Carolina District Courthouse a Federal jury heard the startling recorded confession of Dylan Roof who when questioned by FBI Agents simply said in a calm manner that “I went to that church in Charleston and I did it.”

Roof is accused of slaughtering nine African American churchgoers during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Throughout questioning by FBI agents, Roof also admitted that he considered himself to be a white supremacist and was motivated after reading about the Trevon Martin case in Florida as well as ultimately deciding to take revenge because blacks were raping white women.

When asked if he was guilty of the crime he calmly stated “Yes, I am guilty… We all know I’m guilty.”

Roof faces the death penalty for the mass execution considered to be a hate crime under federal law.

The term hate crime on a federal level was legislated by Congress and signed by the president in October, 2009 in a law known as The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It extended the powers of the federal government from the 1969 federal hate crime law to extending punishment when a case has been decided with guilt.

Shepard, a gay man was murdered in 1998 in Wyoming after being tortured by his captors and Byrd, an African American was dragged from a truck and decapitated in the process by two self-proclaimed white supremacists in Texas.

Here in South Florida, Social Media accounts and tips from the community as well as surveillance video led to the arrest of Joseph Michael Schreiber of Port St. Lucie, who allegedly set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce earlier this year. The mosque gained notoriety as it was a facility attended by the Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen and his family.

The blaze coincided with the fifteenth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City as well as the start of the Muslim holiday of the sacrifice; Eid al-Adha.

According to a spokesman for the mosque they had been receiving threatening phone calls since the Orlando nightclub terrorist attack but there have been no altercations or acts of vandalism before this apparent act of arson.

The incident took place after midnight when the facility was empty and only caused property damage; yet could be tried as a hate crime due to Florida’s law that protects an institutional target.

The investigation found Schreiber’s Facebook page contained an array of anti-Islamic statements labeling all forms of Islam “radical” according to a spokesman for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.
Subsequently, Schreiber’s home was searched revealing a motorcycle that was consistent with video footage provided by the Islamic Center that matched the vehicle leaving the scene after the fire was set. Other material evidence collected also connected Schreiber to the crime.

He was charged with arson as a hate crime, making the allegation a first-degree felony. He remains at the St. Lucie County Jail after being denied bail by a judge.

Schreiber has an extensive criminal record including charges of grand theft, petty theft trespassing, hit-and-run involving injury, battery and resisting arrest. His criminal record shows at least eleven arrests going back to 2003. He was released from state prison after serving an eighteen-month sentence for the grand theft charge.

In addition to the State charges, the FBI and ATF are still investigating the case which appears to demonstrate a specifically bias-motivated act and federal charges may yet be filed according to the FBI Assistant Special Agent in charge of the case.

Due to Schreiber’s previous criminal record he meets the requirements of a prison release re-offender, which will enhance the second-degree felony charge to a first-degree felony and would carry a thirty-year minimum mandatory sentence if found guilty.

To learn more about hate crimes in Florida click here.

With two office locations in Fort Lauderdale and one in Palm Beach County the law offices of Michael B. Cohen can immediately assist you with all answers concerning questions for a strong criminal defense when a hate-crime charge may be attached to an underlying allegation including cases relating to property damage or charges of a violation of an individual’s civil rights.

If you or someone close to you is accused of any charges where a hate-crime enhancement may be attached whether by the State of Florida or the federal government, don’t delay. Call Mr. Cohen at the earliest possible time. His law firm has the capabilities to defend multiple types of federal and state allegations.

Contact The Law Offices of Michael B. Cohen for a completely confidential and free consultation today.

Michael B. Cohen is a veteran Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney who was previously an Assistant United States Attorney as well as an Assistant State Attorney for Broward County, Florida.

To read an overview of his qualifications click here.