Larry Ahrens didn’t take his ex-girlfriend’s new romance lightly, according to investigators.
Sometime during the winter, the 33-year-old Amsterdam Avenue resident began hatching a plan to show his displeasure. Police believe he paid money to acquaintance Michael Chambers and another individual in March so that they would wage a nearly two-month campaign of violence on the new boyfriend’s East Claremont Avenue home.
The first incident on March 5 involved a screwdriver that was punched several times through the vinyl siding of the home. Then, less than a week later, a homemade explosive device was detonated on the man’s truck, causing more than $11,000 in damage.
Another blast occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, when a homemade device smashed the man’s bedroom window as he slept and then blew up on the front porch. One week later, another explosive device was detonated near a dormer on the second floor of the home, causing damage to the roof.
Rotterdam police suspected Ahrens in the case and began an investigation that involved a 24-hour stakeout of the targeted home. Weeks went by without another incident until Sunday, when investigators said they spotted Chambers pitching an explosive device at the house from the passenger side of a slow-moving vehicle.
Police quickly flagged the driver — Chambers’ girlfriend Amy Brzoza — who then tried to flee down Sherman Street. But two unmarked police vehicles, including one driven by Police Chief James Hamilton, blocked her path and she crashed the vehicle into the police cars. The next morning, police caught up with Ahrens on Crane Street and arrested him. All three suspects were charged with one count of first-degree arson and two counts of third-degree arson following an investigation that involved both the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, among other law enforcement agencies.
“All along, [Ahrens] was encouraging others to do these acts for him,” Hamilton said during a news conference on Tuesday.
All three suspects were sent to the Schenectady County Jail without bail to await a preliminary hearing in Rotterdam Town Court on Friday. However, the case could be presented to a Schenectady County grand jury as early as Thursday.
Police would identify the homeowner only as a man in his 40s. An individual answering the door at the residence Tuesday declined to comment.
“I would like you to please respect my privacy and the privacy of my family,” he said politely.
Damage from the explosions was still visible around the residence Tuesday. Siding on the front porch was damaged, and a blown-out window on a second-floor dormer remained boarded up.
Chambers, 33, of Draper Avenue, is accused of the last three bombings at the home and is believed to have been paid a total of $300. Police believe Brzoza, 31, of Kellar Avenue, drove Chambers to the residence on each occasion.
All three could face up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree arson. The severity of the arson charge is related to the detonation of an explosive device while the victim was in his home.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney likened the explosive devices to the ones used by Steven Raucci, the convicted arsonist who placed bombs on vehicles and homes in a series of incidents intended to intimidate people he perceived as enemies. Carney said the explosives detonated at the East Claremont Avenue home involved compressed flash powder and are consistent with those used by Raucci, the former facilities manager in the Schenectady City School District. Raucci is now serving a long prison sentence.
Investigators said they believe that Ahrens was running a significant fencing operation from a garage off of Crane Street in Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant neighborhood and that Chambers became acquainted with Ahrens by selling him stolen goods.
A man identifying himself as the owner of the garage acknowledged knowing Ahrens and Chambers but claimed he didn’t know anything about their activities.
Both Ahrens and Chambers have criminal records. Chambers was convicted of felony grand larceny and went to state prison for three years.
Rotterdam police Lt. Michael Brown said an investigation into the first two incidents at the East Claremont home and into the fencing operation are continuing. Searches at both the garage and Ahrens’ home turned up contraband.
“There is still a lot for us to do in this investigation,” he said.