SCHENECTADY – A Schenectady man was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison for a June 2020 Molotov cocktail attack that happened the morning following protests related to the death of George Floyd.
The sentence imposed against Joel Malek represented the top end of what prosecutors had asked for in the case, a total term imposed of 7 years, 3 months.
Despite the proximity in time to the protests that the victim had been involved in, prosecutors ahead of sentencing indicated that there was no evidence that the attack was a hate crime.
“Today’s sentence justly punishes Joel Malek for using a destructive device to firebomb a Schenectady resident’s property and frighten a community during a time of civil unrest immediately following protests related to the death of George Floyd,” U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman said in a statement “I am thankful that no one was harmed and praise the work of the federal, state, and local officers who worked tirelessly to solve this case and bring Malek to justice.”
Malek, 43, pleaded guilty this past June to one count of possession of a destructive device. He faced up to 10 years in federal prison at his sentencing. Malek’s defense asked for a sentence of just under 6 years. The sentencing had originally been scheduled for last Friday.
Malek admitted in June to using the improvised incendiary device June 5, 2020, to set fire to the vehicle of a woman identified in the plea agreement as J.C. The vehicle was parked at the corner of Paige and Hamilton streets.
Malek and another unidentified conspirator approached the vehicle and the other conspirator broke a driver’s side window with a hammer and ran away, according to Malek’s plea agreement.
Malek then approached the vehicle holding the Molotov cocktail, ignited it and threw it into the vehicle through the broken window, starting the vehicle on fire, court documents say. The device was made from a champagne bottle.
The victim, Jahonna Chaires, who spoke to The Daily Gazette days after the incident, said the explosion came after she attempted to break up a dispute at a Schenectady George Floyd rally.
No one was hurt, but the act caused a significant risk of life, prosecutor Alexander P. Wentworth-Ping wrote. The vehicle was also destroyed.
In arguing for the stiffer sentence, prosecutors noted the incident took place on a public roadway, near a public park and playground, and that the crime required careful planning and premeditation.
Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue imposed the sentence Tuesday. He also ordered three years of supervised release upon completion of the sentence and ordered Malek to pay $3,500 in restitution to Chaires.
The case was investigated by the ATF and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, as well as the Schenectady Police Department and the Schenectady Fire Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Belliss and Alexander Wentworth-Ping prosecuted.