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Modesto man convicted for hate crime

POSTED January 14, 2011 9:54 p.m.

Two men entered guilty pleas Friday in federal court to charges related to the desecration of congregation Beth Shalom, a Jewish synagogue in Modesto.

Brian Lewis, 23, of Modesto and Abel Mark Gonzalez, 23, of Morgan Hill were convicted of conspiring to violate the civil rights of congregants, according to the Department of Justice.

According to court documents, Lewis, Gonzalez and a co-conspirator defaced and damaged the synagogue in February 2006. Lewis and Gonzalez admitted that they spray-painted anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi graffiti on the synagogue’s exterior walls, as well as anti-Christian graffiti on the exterior walls of Our Lady of Fatima Church and School and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, both in Modesto.

“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.”

Lewis and Gonzalez each face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. A sentencing hearing has been set for 10 a.m. on April 8.

This case, which is ongoing, is being investigated by the Modesto Resident Agency of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office with assistance from the Modesto Police Department.

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