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Man accused of lighting fire outside Bernie Sanders' office had past brushes with the law

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LA Post: Man accused of lighting fire outside Bernie Sanders' office had past brushes with the law
April 11, 2024
LISA RATHKE - AP

The man accused of starting a fire outside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' Vermont office a week ago has had past brushes with the law involving guns and a history of traveling from place to place, prosecutors say in court filings arguing that he should remain detained.

Security video shows Shant Michael Soghomonian throwing liquid at the bottom of a door opening into Sanders’ third-floor office in Burlington and setting it on fire with a lighter last Friday, according to an affidavit filed by a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Seven employees working in the office at the time were unharmed and able to evacuate. The building’s interior suffered some damage from the fire and water sprinklers. Sanders, an independent, was not in the office at the time.

Soghomonian, 35, who was previously from Northridge, California, had been staying at a South Burlington hotel for nearly two months and was spotted outside Sanders’ office the day before and the day of the fire, according to the special agent's report.

He is facing a charge of maliciously damaging by means of fire a building used in interstate commerce and as a place of activity affecting interstate commerce. Soghomonian is currently in custody. He was scheduled to appear at a detention hearing later Thursday. The Associated Press left a telephone message seeking comment with his public defender.

Prosecutors argue that Soghomonian is a danger to the community and a flight risk and should remain detained.

“The risk to the structure and the lives of the building’s occupants was substantial, showing the defendant’s disregard for the safety of the building’s occupants and the community at large," Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Lasher wrote in his court petition. “The defendant then fled the area to avoid detection and apprehension.”

In August, Illinois State Police who had stopped Soghomonian for a possible traffic violation seized an AK-47 rifle and two magazines from his vehicle, along with 11.5 grams of cannabis and a book titled “How to Blow up a Pipeline,” prosecutors say. The book makes “an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse.”

During the traffic stop, Soghomonian produced an invalid Oregon driver's license, prosecutors say. He told police he was traveling to the West Coast. In August alone, his vehicle had been in New York, then Illinois, California and Pennsylvania, Lasher wrote in his petition.

When Soghomonian was in his mid-teens, he was detained for an assault with a firearm in Glendale, California, in 2005, according to prosecutors, who say the case appears to have been later dismissed.

“In other words, defendant has a history of itinerancy, firearms possession, and lack of candor with law enforcement, all exacerbating his risk of flight,” Lasher wrote.

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