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Podiatrist's arsenal part of blueprint for terror

In addition to weapons, detailed plans to bomb Islamic schools and mosques are found in his Seminole home, records say.

By LEANORA MINAI and MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002


In addition to weapons, detailed plans to bomb Islamic schools and mosques are found in his Seminole home, records say.

SEMINOLE -- The plan for the military-style "mission" showed a drawing of an "Islamic Education Center."

Timers on plastic explosives would go off in 15 minutes, taking down buildings and killing Muslims. Bombs and land mines would detonate in parking lots and playgrounds, killing police and fleeing students.

This was the blueprint of a 37-year-old podiatrist from Seminole, Robert Jay Goldstein, who had compiled a list of 50 Islamic centers and mosques in the Tampa Bay area and Florida, federal authorities said Friday.

"He had enough weapons to take on an army," said Cal Dennie, Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman. Indeed, authorities removed an arsenal of weapons and enough explosives to destroy not only his townhome, but up to 10 others.

Goldstein was charged Friday with possessing 20 illegal bombs and attempting to damage and destroy Islamic centers and mosques.

During a hearing before a federal magistrate in Tampa, his attorneys said Goldstein needed three medications that he had been taking.

"We do have some preliminary concerns about his competency," said Hollywood attorney Myles Malman.

Goldstein wore a hospital gown open at the back and shackles at his feet. He sobbed and gagged into a white tissue. Appearing dazed, he stared straight ahead and held his head as the lawyers talked.

Goldstein, who does not have a criminal record in Florida, will remain in a Hillsborough County Jail pending a bond hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

Federal agents say Goldstein is licensed and registered to purchase and possess most of the firearms found in his house. He was not licensed to have any of the explosives and destructive devices.

"That's what he's facing charges on," said Carlos Baixauli, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Pinellas sheriff's deputies took Goldstein into custody Thursday after going to his Seminole townhome at 6:45 p.m. to break up an argument he was having with his wife, Kristi L. Goldstein, 28.

When deputies arrived at Unit 112 in the Townhomes of Lake Seminole at 9209 Seminole Blvd., she was standing outside.

Kristi Goldstein, who managed her husband's office, Seminole Podiatry Center, told deputies her husband of four years threatened to kill her, according to the criminal affidavit. She also told authorities that her husband had 60 guns in the townhome and that she feared for her safety.

After 30 minutes, Goldstein came out of the home and talked with deputies. At 9 p.m., deputies searched the townhome.

They found an arsenal: two light anti-armor rockets, a .50-caliber sniper rifle, hand grenades, assorted guns and assault rifles and 20 homemade bombs, among other lethal weapons and magazines and articles on how to build destructive devices.

Baixauli, the ATF agent, said the explosives, while homemade, were functional.

"We found numerous devices, any one of which would have caused severe damage to that townhouse and the surrounding townhouses," he said.

Baixauli said if one detonated, there would be a domino effect.

"We would have lost eight to 10 townhouses, plus there would have been a lot of collateral damage," he said.

Authorities also found a typed list of 50 Islamic worship centers in the Tampa Bay area and Florida, the criminal affidavit said. Attached to the list were three pages that included a schematic drawing of an unknown center and instructions on what to wear and how to carry out an attack.

"OBJECTIVE: Kill all 'rags' at this Islamic Education Center -- ZERO residual presence -- maximum effect," the plan read.

Authorities did not identify addresses of specific targets.

Goldstein also had surveillance cameras monitoring the entrance and exit of his home, as well as rooms inside, authorities said.

"It showed you every aspect of the home," said Dennie, the sheriff's spokesman. "If you snuck up the back, he could see you."

From all appearances, Goldstein seemed ordinary. He lived in a moderate townhouse with his wife and ran a podiatry practice a few miles from home. Neighbors said he stayed to himself most of the time, but that he'd give a friendly wave every now and then around their two-story townhome overlooking Lake Seminole.

Goldstein's fellow podiatrists and neighbors were stunned to learn about the arrest. Colleagues said Goldstein, who went to podiatry school in Pennsylvania, did not mingle with fellow foot doctors who were wined and dined by medical supply companies at places such as Bern's Steak House and sports suites at the Ice Palace.

"We never saw him," said Edward Bratton, 47, president of the Pinellas County Podiatry Association.

As TV crews prepared for noon live shots Friday, Goldstein's wife carried personal items from their townhouse to her Ford Explorer. She refused to talk to reporters, saying, "You're making my life more miserable than it already is."

Around 12:30 p.m. she left with her Dalmatian on the front passenger seat.

Neighbors wondered about Goldstein's motives.

Bob Jones, a retired police officer, said he was shocked after hearing about the three-page document detailing plans for blowing up an Islamic center.

"This is huge for Seminole," said Jones, 59, a next-door neighbor. "If we find out Dr. Goldstein is a terrorist, nothing would surprise me more."

He and Goldstein once chatted about their tattoos: Goldstein has a tattoo of a hummingbird on his left arm, and a tattoo of thorns around his right bicep.

Jones and his wife, Marge, moved into the unit next door to the Goldsteins in June. "They were just great neighbors," said Marge Jones, 56, a retired secretary. "He just seemed so pleasant and nice." Once he offered to help her carry in the groceries, she said.

Richard Krauss, a retired sales manager who lives in the building next to Goldstein's, said he'd occasionally wave to the podiatrist when he was driving by in his black Porsche Boxster. "Otherwise, he kept to himself," said Krauss, 67.

The owner of the strip center where Goldstein operated Seminole Podiatry Center for nine years had a discussion with Goldstein's wife.

Jack Grayson says about a year ago Kristi Goldstein told him her husband was no longer a practicing Jew. Grayson says he remembers Goldstein wearing a cross when he dropped off his rent check.

"Wow, this is bizarre," Grayson said after learning of Goldstein's alleged plans to blow up an Islamic education center. "This just blows my mind."

One of Goldstein's patients stopped by the office Friday morning to offer support to his wife, who managed the office. No one was there and the door was locked. Later in the day a note on the door said: "Closed until further notice."

Reaction from the Muslim community was one of fear.

Mohammad Sultan,the imam (prayer leader) and director of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay, said his mosque was on the list found in Goldstein's home.

The society, located in east Tampa, is one of the largest local mosques. It has a capacity of 1,700 members.

Sultan said that he and the other worshipers will discuss the building's security in the coming days.

"We have to open our eyes," he said.

Still, Sultan said that he will not cancel any services or planned events, including an open house+

for the public on Sept. 14.

"People who do evil acts do not belong to any one race or religion.

Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian activist in Tampa who runs the the Islamic Academy of Florida, a Muslim school in Tampa, said he is pleased authorities made the arrest.

"It's very scary, extremely scary," said Al-Arian, a professor at the University of South Florida. "It looks like conspiracy to murder." Al-Arian himself is at the center of a separate controversy over the university's attempts to oust him over alleged associations with terrorists.

-- Times staff writers Anita Kumar, Tamara Lush and Chuck Murphy contributed to this report, as did Times researchers John Martin and Barbara Oliver. Leanora Minai can be reached at minai@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8406.

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