EXCLUSIVE: An undocumented Englewood day laborer who carried out a three-day arson spree, setting the city’s west side on edge, was sentenced yesterday in Hackensack to three years in state prison.
With 621 days already spent behind bars since his June 2012 arrest, undocumented Guatemalan day laborer Marco Antonio Rene will complete his sentence this December — only to be turned over to federal authorities for deportation (As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported, Rene has been in the country illegally since 2010).
Through defense attorney Ian Silvera, Rene told Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian that he accepted responsibility and wants to “move on with his life.”
Assistant Prosecutor Maria Rockfol said the crimes were much worse than the plea deal made them look.
In exchange for Rene pleading guilty to torching only two of the cars — a 1986 Pontiac and a 1999 Toyota — prosecutors dropped all of the remaining charges.
“There were actually seven cars set on fire, and an apartment house,” she told the judge. “The home had to be evacuated and the tenants, some home at the time the fire was set, had to be relocated.”
Had he been convicted during a trial of the nine total arsons he was charged with, Rene could have faced at least 10 years behind bars.
Jerejian said he found the case was “baffling,” while emphasizing the need for deterrence.
Although Rene had no previous criminal record, the judge said the crimes were so serious that incarceration was necessary. At the same time, Jerejian said, Rene will be eligible for parole “very quickly.”
The 5-foot-6-inch Rene didn’t say why he did it, although law enforcement officials told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he claimed being upset because his girlfriend broke up with him.
Rene originally was charged with four counts of attempted murder, eight counts of aggravated arson and a single count of possessing a fraudulent Social Security card and resident alien card after two cars were set ablaze.
The first was parked outside the Shop-Rite at West Street and Tallman Place.
Less than an hour later, a witness flagged down a passing Englewood patrol car and reported that a man had just torched a car on West Demarest Avenue.
Englewood police officers flooded the area. They spotted Rene and another man entering an apartment a few blocks away and brought both in for questioning.
The second man quickly gave up Rene, who then admitted to torching the two cars and setting fires to five cars and a house in a nearby neighborhood two weeks earlier, Police Chief Arthur O’Keefe told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the time.
Emergency workers were at the scene of the car fires when the siding of a house suddenly sprouted flames. They believe it may have been smoldering for awhile.
Damage to the home was minimal, they said, but four people were inside at the time — leading to the attempted murder charges that were later dropped.
The vehicles were all parked curbside between the Soldiers Monument on West Palisade Avenue and Cottage Place. They included a restored 1986 Fiero, a Lexus and two Camrys. Three were destroyed, one had moderate damage and one had minor damage. A sixth, parked nearby, sustained some damage after it caught fire from the others.
The Bergen County Sheriff’s Department’s Bureau of Criminal Identification collected evidence for the investigation, conducted by the Englewood Police Department and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Arson Squad.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter