Weapons Trove Suspect Is Linked to Hate Crimes
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By FERNANDA SANTOS and KAREEM FAHIM
Published: January 22, 2008
It all happened in less than three hours on a cool September night — a prolific spurt of anti-Jewish vandalism at more than a dozen locations in the heart of Brooklyn Heights.
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Courtesy of WNBC
Ivaylo Ivanov is suspected of anti-Jewish vandalism.
On Monday, the police caught a break, arresting a man who they said had a trove of weapons inside a stately apartment building in the neighborhood. The man, Ivaylo Ivanov, admitted under videotaped questioning that he was behind the spree, which had mystified investigators for months, the police said.
And later Monday evening, after Mr. Ivanov’s arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court, his lawyer surprised reporters with his own announcement: Mr. Ivanov is himself Jewish.
The revelation was the latest twist in a bizarre story that features a man who, police said, shot his own finger; a sizable weapons collection, including pipe bombs and a sawed-off shotgun, found in an apartment in one of Brooklyn’s most exclusive neighborhoods; and a prominent H.I.V./AIDS researcher and medical anthropologist, who owns the apartment.
The hate crimes had unsettled local residents, many of whom awoke on the morning of Sept. 25 to find swastikas and other slurs scratched, scrawled and spray-painted on cars, playgrounds, synagogues and building facades. Crude fliers reading “Kill All Jews” were strewn about.
At one point, 20 detectives were assigned to investigate the case, and though they zeroed in on a suspect almost from the start, there was not enough evidence to charge him.
According to a police official, Mr. Ivanov said his acts of vandalism were a result of “bad judgment” and “rage.”
In addition to the charges of weapons possession, Mr. Ivanov was arraigned on four charges of criminal mischief and five charges of aggravated assault. Two counts of each charge are considered hate crimes.
Adrian Lesher, a lawyer appointed to represent Mr. Ivanov, said at the arraignment that his client “basically led police to the apartment in a situation that was almost calculated.” The judge, John Wilson, set bail at $150,000 cash or a $300,000 bond, and ordered Mr. Ivanov to surrender his passport.
Mr. Lesher declined to answer questions after the arraignment, but did say, “I can tell you he’s Jewish.” He would not comment further.
Upon hearing that Mr. Ivanov was said to be Jewish, Aaron L. Raskin, the rabbi of Congregation B’Nai Avraham, one of the desecrated synagogues, was skeptical.
“Is his mother Jewish or is his father Jewish?” the rabbi asked, adding that to be “biblically Jewish,” Mr. Ivanov would have to have a Jewish mother.
“If he is Jewish, then he really needs to see a rabbi,” Rabbi Raskin said. Still, he said that he would ask his congregants to pray for Mr. Ivanov “to strengthen the unity of the neighborhood.”
The relationship between Mr. Ivanov and the owner of his apartment at 58 Remsen Street, Michael C. Clatts, remained unclear on Monday. Mr. Clatts, 50, could not be located, and some who have worked with him said they had no idea who Mr. Ivanov was.
Mr. Clatts’s colleagues at the National Development and Research Institutes, a nonprofit group based in Manhattan, were disbelieving that he could have any connection with wrongdoing. The police said they did not know of any link between Mr. Clatts and Mr. Ivanov’s weapons.
“This does not fit with my knowledge of him,” Don C. Des Jarlais, a research fellow at the agency, said of Mr. Clatts. “He’s an anthropologist.”
The police had also not reached Mr. Clatts as of Monday night. He directs the organization’s Institute for International Research on Youth at Risk and is believed to be traveling, one official said. He could be in Puerto Rico, where he is a university professor, or in Vietnam, where he is conducting research on H.I.V. risk among young intravenous drug users, according to a colleague.
Much less is known about Mr. Ivanov. In court, his lawyer said that Mr. Ivanov is a linguist. The authorities are not sure of his age, saying he is either 37 or 31 years old. Mr. Ivanov told the police that he was born in Sicily and raised in Bulgaria, and that he had been trained by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. He has been arrested in the past on charges that included petty larceny, according to the police, but the disposition of those cases was not available. It was not clear how long he had been living at 58 Remsen Street, but neighbors said they recalled seeing him more than they saw Mr. Clatts.
Roberta Weisbrod, who lives in the building next door, said Mr. Ivanov “was always around walking the dog, all the time.”
Detectives had questioned Mr. Ivanov before about the September vandalism and had visited the apartment several times, the police said. They even obtained his signature, a sample of his handwriting, but were unable to link him conclusively to the crimes.
During those visits, the most dangerous thing they found in the apartment was a paintball gun, the police official said.
On Sunday, about 1 a.m., Mr. Ivanov approached police officers on patrol and told them that someone had shot him in the hand. But when investigators visited the place where Mr. Ivanov said he had been shot, they were unable to find blood or anyone who had witnessed a shooting. Someone also called the police from Long Island College Hospital, where Mr. Ivanov had been taken for treatment, and told them that he had been wearing a bulletproof vest. Investigators later concluded that the gun probably went off while Mr. Ivanov was cleaning it.
The police said they then decided to search his apartment, and what they found was alarming: bloody rags and towels everywhere, and weapons, mostly in the kitchen and living room. The arsenal included seven pipe bombs and two pounds of what the police called a “low-explosive powder”; a sawed-off shotgun and a crossbow with arrows; another pipe bomb, hidden in a foam football; and other rifles, including pellet guns. The discovery prompted an all-day evacuation of the building.
Detectives were not sure on Monday what Mr. Ivanov planned to do with the weapons.
According to a law enforcement official, detectives are exploring the possibility that Mr. Ivanov had planned to use the pipe bombs against synagogues. The official said that Mr. Ivanov told investigators he intended to use the bombs for fishing; but, given his admission that he painted swastikas on synagogues, investigators became concerned he was planning violence. Detectives have seized his computers, and are searching them for clues, the official said.
Residents and religious leaders in Brooklyn Heights expressed relief at the announcement that there had been an arrest in connection with the vandalism.
After a swastika appeared on the steps outside Congregation B’Nai Avraham, within sight of the building where Mr. Ivanov lived, the congregation hired a security guard and installed high-resolution surveillance cameras, Rabbi Raskin said.
“I think originally we thought it was some high school kids,” Rabbi Raskin said. “Unfortunately, he seems to be very, very mixed up and dangerous.”