A Morgan Hill man pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the
civil rights of religious congregants, and admitted he desecrated a
synagogue and two Christian churches.
A Morgan Hill man pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the civil rights of religious congregants, and admitted he desecrated a synagogue and two Christian churches.
Abel Mark Gonzalez, 23 of Morgan Hill, and Brian Lewis, 23 of Modesto, pleaded guilty to the charge of conspring to violate the civil rights of worshippers at Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto, according to a press release from the U.S. District court of Eastern California.
The guilty plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill.
Gonzalez, Lewis and an unnamed co-conspirator conspired to deface and damage the synagogue, according to court documents. Gonzalez and Lewis admitted the men spray-painted anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi graffiti on the synagogue’s exterior walls.
The two further admitted that they spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti on the exterior walls of Our Lady of Fatima Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of the annunciation, and caused other damage to both churches which are in Modesto.
Gonzalez and Lewis face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 each. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 8.
“Freedom of worship for all Americans is a constitutional right that the federal government will continue to protect through strong enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant Attorney General for the civil rights division. “This prosecution sends a clear signal to all who may contemplate similar conduct that we will continue to seek justice for victims of hate crimes and will hold accountable those who threaten religious freedom.”
The investigation of the case is ongoing, and is being handled by the Modesto Resident Agency of the FBI’s Sacramento field office, with the assistance of the Modesto police department.