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Bergen judge refuses to lower $4 million bail for synagogue firebomb defendant

Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: BCPO
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia (CLIFFVIEW PILOT
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack today refused to reduce the $4 million bail for one of two suspects charged with a series of firebombings, including one at a rabbi’s home and another at a Paramus synagogue.

“It’s so high, I can hardly say the words,” defense attorney Brian Neary told Superior Court Judge Edward Jerejian, in requesting the reduction for Aakash Dalal ( above ).

The  judge was unmoved, however.

Anthony Marco Graziano, the primary defendant in the case, at this afternoon’s status conference (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia)

“I consider these very serious crimes. If the defendant is convicted he could very well be subject to a life sentence.

“I find there is significant risk he may fail to appear.”

Dalal had 14 family members in court. Neary said he also had 750 signatures on a petition attesting to his character.

“I take little comfort in this instance in the support of family and friends,” Jerejian said.

Dalal is due back in court on July 16 and 28 because Neary has asked the judge for a change of venue.

He noted that Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli attended the grand jury hearings, although he didn’t speak — a move the defense attorney said apparently was “playing to public sentiment.”

Neary also cited adverse publicity and what he said might be prejudice by Molinelli’s office because Dalal threatened to kill an assistant prosecutor.

After Dalal’s hearing, co-defendant Anthony Marco Graziano was brought before Jerejian on a request by his attorney, public defender Ian Silvera, for additional time to review evidence compiled on CDs.

The judge gave Silvera until June 28.

A Bergen County grand jury in March charged Dalal and Graziano in a 30-count indictment that marked the first time a special New Jersey anti-terror law has been applied.

Graziano is charged with nine counts of attempted murder and three each of bias intimidation, conspiracy to commit arson and aggravated arson, among other counts.

Dalal, who used to live in Lodi, is charged with nearly all of the same offenses except for attempted murder.

Both also face charges of hindering apprehension, hindering terrorism (under the “September 11 2010 Anti Terrorism Act”), and possession of destructive devices.

Neither has to be convicted of all the counts to be sent to prison for life.

The firebombings stretched over a month, from Dec. 11, 2011 to Jan. 11 of last year.

Surveillance video of Graziano leaving the Wal-Mart on Route 46 in Saddle Brook (COURTESY: BCPO)

They included one at the Rutherford home of Rabbi Neil Schuman and his family and another at Temple K’Hal Adath Jeshrun of Paramus, as well as an attempted arson at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

The indictment also cites bias intimidation offenses at Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and at Temple Beth El Hackensack.

Graziano, of Westervelt Place, was arrested in January 2012 following an intense manhunt after surveillance footage released to the public showed him leaving the Route 46 Wal-Mart in Saddle Brook with a bag of items that hair spray cans, duct tape and Orange Crush – to be used as bombs, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time.

The Orange Crush bottles are believed connected to “Left 4 Dead,” an X-Box game that two Florida honor students cited as their inspiration for throwing more than a dozen Molotov cocktails at cars and a house in Florida three years ago.

The first wave of calls about the man in the red skull cap and black track suit didn’t pan out. Bust then detectives “received a number of tips” that pointed directly to Graziano, Molinelli said.

Investigators went to his grandfather’s house, where Graziano and his mother live. They interviewed Graziano, as well as his friends and relatives, then obtained a search warrant and conducted a “massive” search of the home, the prosecutor said.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Graziano — who turned 21 on Valentine’s Day — was also caught in the images wearing a military-styled camouflage sack on his back in which the prosecutor said he carried the bomb-making materials (His brother was on assignment with the U.S. Army at the time).

Molinelli said the Hasbrouck High School graduate used a bicycle to get to and from the synagogue attacks. He also said he believed the area was “weeks away” from another possible attack because Graziano had submitted paperwork in an attempt to buy a gun before he was arrested.

Authorities also first believed that Graziano was a “loner,” as Molinelli put it.

But a check of his computer turned up correspondence with Dalal, a childhood friend, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“He egged him on,” the source said. “He’d tell him, ‘Don’t do it this way. Do it this way.”

CLIFFVIEW PILOT received information pointing to Dalal early in the investigation and immediately notified Molinelli.

However, the prosecutor said his detectives independently got onto Dalal’s trail based on a biased posting of his on a Jewish online site after the firebombings.

After being arrested in connection with the firebombings, the Lodi High School graduate and Rutgers University student living in New Brunswick was charged with also planning to kill a prosecutor handling the case against him, as well as Molinelli. Dalal’s lawyer claimed a jailhouse snitch wore a wire to obtain the incriminating evidence to help further Molinelli’s career.

An informant also told FBI agents in Newark that that Dalal was “planning to commit arson attacks on federal facilities in the area,” Molinelli said at the time.

The initial manhunt began after a Molotov cocktail crashed through the bedroom window of Rabbi Rabbi Nosson Schuman — who lives above Congregation Beth El on Montross Avenue with his wife, parents and five children — around 4:30 a.m. Jan. 11, 2012.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported, Schuman extinguished the flames and called police, who found several other homemade incendiary devices on the roof — leading to the belief that whomever tossed them was specifically targeting Schuman.

“If those devices were meant for the temple or the school [downstairs], they wouldn’t have been thrown up at the second floor,” a law enforcement source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the time.

The manhunt quickly intensified, involving not only the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and local police agencies but also the FBI and ATF, as well as the New Jersey State Police. Gov. Christie sent a representative from the Attorney General’s Office, as well.

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli (PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia (CLIFFVIEW PILOT)

Bergen County’s top public safety leaders later told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that unprecedented 24-hour patrols of Bergen County’s religious and ethnic community facilities would continue for the indefinite future. Molinelli, Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins and Sheriff Michael Saudino made the historic pact after meeting with Jewish leaders and others.

Every individual police department in the county was on the lookout.

The security measures were hoped to bring the added benefit of resources concentrated on finding whomever was responsible for the firebombing and possibly for a small arson fire set behind Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus, he said.

“This is certainly a hate crime. This is certainly a bias crime,” Molinelli said of the Rutherford attack.

Although people commonly know of Molotov cocktails as bottles filled with gas and ignited by a kerosene-soaked wick stuffed into the mouth, some devices instead involve a chemical or gel and gasoline mix that ignites when the container breaks.

Schuman was lauded by many for his attempts to ease people’s fears and use the attacks as a pathway toward more communication and better understanding among various groups. Although several different community meetings were held, many point to one called by the rabbi at Felician College in Rutherford.

Molinelli said the investigation, conducted by members of his Major Crimes Unit (under the direction of Chief Steven Cucciniello), was greatly assisted by members of the Rutherford Police Department; the Paramus Police Department; the Hackensack Police Department, the Maywood Police Department, the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office’s Division of Criminal Justice, and the FBI.

Graziano remains held on $2.5 million bail in the Bergen County Jail.

STORY / PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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Aakash Dalal (MUGSHOT: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul (EXCLUSIVE CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO)

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Rutherford rabbi turns firebomb into seeds of love
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AN OFFICER WRITES : The coward who firebombed the home of Rabbi Rosson Schuman and his family failed to produce the terror, silence or cries for vengeance that such incendiary devices are meant for. No. The hateful act offered the Rutherford rabbi an opportunity to deliver a message that is as important now as ever. READ MORE….

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CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAD IT FIRST: Specially trained K9 units headed up by the Bergen County Police Department on Wednesday began conducting sweeps of synagogues for accelerants within a 10-mile radius of the home of a Lodi man charged with firebombing a Rutherford rabbi’s home and starting an arson fire outside a temple. READ MORE….

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Authorities confirm arrest in firebombing of Rutherford rabbi’s home

CLIFFVIEW PILOT SCOOP: A massive search of a Lodi home last night led to the arrest of a suspect in the firebombing of a Rutherford rabbi’s home, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . One of the pieces of evidence: Orange Crush soda. READ MORE….

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Man wanted for questioning in Rutherford firebombing

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli on Friday authorized the release of what were investigatory images obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT of a man buying hair spray, bottles, duct tape and other materials at the Wal-Mart on Route 46 in Saddle Brook that were used in the pre-dawn firebombing of a Rutherford rabbi’s home. There’s a reward for anyone who can lead authorities to him. READ MORE….

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