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    Doctor is well-known to deputies

    Officials say the man accused of plotting violence against Islamic centers has a history of disputes.

    By LEANORA MINAI and AMY WIMMER
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 25, 2002


    SEMINOLE -- The man whose home was filled with rockets and rifles powerful enough to take down a helicopter did not have a criminal record in Florida, but he was no stranger to law enforcement.

    Pinellas County sheriff's deputies investigated several clashes that Seminole podiatrist Robert Jay Goldstein had with friends and neighbors over the years. There were disputes over a barking dog, harassing phone calls and $30,000 that went missing.

    A friend of Goldstein's who reported the money missing in 2001 told sheriff's deputies that Goldstein had said, "Are you accusing me of taking the money? I'll cap you if you get me involved in this," according to a sheriff's report.

    The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms charged Goldstein on Friday with illegally possessing 20 live bombs and plotting to damage or destroy 50 Islamic centers and mosques in the Tampa Bay area and Florida.

    On Saturday, Goldstein, 37, remained in the Orient Road Jail in Tampa. His bail hearing is at 2 p.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

    Several new details emerged Saturday about what led authorities to Goldstein's home, Unit 112 in the Townhomes of Lake Seminole at 9209 Seminole Blvd.

    On Thursday, Goldstein's wife, Kristi Goldstein, 28, wanted to end their marriage after four years, sheriff's deputies said. She called Goldstein's mother in New York, who then called his psychiatrist.

    At 6:40 p.m. Thursday, the doctor called the Sheriff's Office and asked deputies to check on Goldstein.

    At first, Goldstein would not come outside. Deputies called him several times but got the couple's answering machine. When Goldstein came out, deputies escorted his wife inside so she could get some belongings.

    Inside the townhome, deputies found two light antiarmor 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.

    Authorities also found a typed list of 50 Islamic worship centers in the Tampa Bay area and Florida, the criminal affidavit said. Authorities have declined to name specific targets.

    The plans seized by officials made reference to accomplices, but no one else had been arrested or detained on Saturday, said Carlos Baixauli, an ATF agent in Tampa.

    Attached to the list were three pages that included a floor plan of an unknown center and instructions on what to wear: Kevlar gloves, Ghillie military-style pants, black mask. There was also a guide on how to carry out an attack: Make sure the car's gas tank is full and that mud is thrown on the license plate so it doesn't look suspicious at night.

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

    Many of the firearms Goldstein had can be bought at gun shops and from gun dealers or purchased on the black market from unlicensed dealers, officials said.

    Baixauli said the explosives Goldstein had were homemade but functional. They could have destroyed Goldstein's townhome and 10 others, he said.

    "You can probably get all of the information you need right off the Internet on how to make that, and you can probably go to your chemical companies," Baixauli said.

    It is not clear whether local authorities saw any firearms or explosives during their past visits to Goldstein's home. At least one witness in a complaint against Goldstein told deputies that Goldstein had "quite an extensive gun collection."

    Goldstein's relatives and his attorney, Myles Malman of Hollywood, Fla., could not be reached for comment.

    Sheriff's reports detail several incidents involving Goldstein. Two years ago, Goldstein called deputies to report "harassing phone calls" from a friend who had loaned him $3,000.

    Timothy Carpenter, an employee of Austin Gun Outfitters in Pinellas Park, had loaned Goldstein the money to pay bills, authorities said.

    Goldstein could not repay Carpenter, so the two agreed that Goldstein would relinquish 10 guns for Carpenter to sell in exchange for the debt.

    Carpenter, who could not be reached for comment Saturday, sold three of the guns and began calling Goldstein's home and office, wanting the rest of the debt in cash, sheriff's reports said.

    Deputy Robert F. Johnson told the men they would have to settle the matter in civil court.

    Last April, deputies investigated another incident involving money.

    Goldstein's neighbors, Harold and Robin VanZandt, called the sheriff's office on April 15, 2001 to report $30,000 missing from their safe.

    The VanZandts told a deputy that they suspected Goldstein had opened their safe and taken money because he was the last person around the safe.

    The couple also told deputies that Goldstein had flown into a rage and threatened them when they told him about the missing money.

    Harold VanZandt told deputies that Goldstein threatened to "cap my a--," sheriff's reports said.

    The case was closed a month later because the VanZandts refused to cooperate with the investigation. Goldstein was never charged with a crime. The VanZandts could not be reached for comment Saturday.

    Last June, a deputy was back out at Townhomes of Lake Seminole to talk to a neighbor who had a confrontation with Goldstein.

    The argument with neighbor Gregory Gresham was about excessive barking by Gresham's dog.

    Gresham told deputies that Goldstein had typed a threatening letter and left it on Gresham's door when no one was home. In the letter, Goldstein allegedly said he would retaliate against Gresham.

    The matter was settled with both men telling deputies the incident was blown out of proportion. Gresham could not be reached for comment Saturday.

    It appears Goldstein also clashed with fellow gun enthusiasts in discussions on the Internet. Authorities seized his computers as well as his weapons.

    Some Internet gun discussion groups reveal postings from a Dr. Robert Goldstein with the address pod@gate.net from Seminole Podiatry, which is Goldstein's office.

    Most of the messages on the rec.guns listserv are from 1996. They are replete with technical buzz words and specifications.

    One message from the doctor took a swipe at a discussion group participant who questioned whether people should carry, for defense, pistols manufactured by Heckler & Koch, which distributes firearms and weapons systems to the military and law enforcement agencies.

    "I don't think I have ever read a more ignorant, unsubstantiated piece of dribble in my entire life. ... German craftsmanship is so much far superior to the "good ol Colt' and that is why every counter-terrorist agency in the world as well as every SpecOps military branch has employed the HK pistols, submachine guns, battle and sniper rifles for years now. Get a life."

    News of the alleged plot unsettled Muslims in the Tampa Bay area, but many urged tolerance.

    Outside Muhammad's Mosque in St. Petersburg Saturday morning, Theodore Muhammad stood in a shirt and tie, keeping a watchful eye on the street. He said the mosque had long been security conscious and might now increase security.

    But he said he viewed Goldstein as an example of a radical zealot and is not representative of Jews, just as suicide bombers do not represent Muslims.

    "We've got people who are responding to what's going on in the Middle East," Muhammad said, "and they're going to bring it to these shores."

    The religion Goldstein practices is not clear. The owner of the strip center where Goldstein practiced podiatry, said Kristi Goldstein told him her husband was no longer a practicing Jew. Jack Grayson recalled Goldstein's wearing a cross when he paid his rent. Mahmoud Mousavi, the imam of the Islamic Education Center on Rock Pointe Drive near Tampa International Airport, said he was "shocked that a person could plan such a thing."

    At the same time, he said, Muslims in Tampa Bay still feel safe.

    "Even though we have different beliefs, there is a love here," he said. "And because of that, we are very confident."

    -- Times researchers John Martin, Debbie Wolfe and Barbara Oliver and staff writers Ron Matus, Mike Brassfield and John Balz contributed to this report. Leanora Minai can be reached at minai@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8406.

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