Man pleads guilty to bomb plot
By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Seminole podiatrist Robert J. Goldstein pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to plotting to blow up a local mosque.
Goldstein faces 121/2 to 15 years in prison, according to a plea agreement, about two years less than he likely would face if convicted of the same charges at trial.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office expressed relief that the plot was foiled and the main player will go to prison. But the plea agreement left a local Muslim group with mixed feelings.
If Goldstein were a Muslim who plotted to blow up buildings, he would have faced a much harsher sentence, said Ahmed Bedier, communications director of the Florida office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
"This appears to be a double standard," he said. "This sentence also sends a message that it just might be worth the risk to attack American Muslims."
Goldstein, 38, pleaded guilty to three charges: conspiracy to violate civil rights, attempting to damage religious property and possession of unregistered firearms. No sentencing date was set.
The plea agreement calls for the judge to recommend Goldstein serve his time at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., a facility prosecutors described as a prison with more advanced mental health care.
Goldstein, who told the judge on Thursday that he was on several prescription drugs, including the antidepressant Prozac, appeared alert and able to follow the proceedings. His mental health has been an issue throughout the case.
In an unusual move, the prosecution and defense agreed that if the judge or probation department decides a sentence of more than 15 years is warranted, Goldstein will be allowed to withdraw his plea and go to trial.
In the majority of plea agreements, the defendant is bound to the judge's sentencing decision.
"We are satisfied with the plea agreement," said U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Steve Cole.
The case began Aug. 22 when Goldstein's wife called authorities after the couple fought. Kristi Goldstein told deputies her husband had threatened to kill her. Investigators discovered an arsenal in the home at 9209 Seminole Blvd., including two light antiarmor rockets, handguns, a 50-caliber rifle and homemade bombs.
They also found a typed list of 50 Islamic worship centers in the Tampa Bay area and Florida, court records state. Attached to the list were three pages that included a schematic drawing of a center and instructions on what to wear and how to carry out an attack.
Goldstein's target was the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, a short distance from his house, prosecutors said.
Goldstein -- who is Jewish -- wanted to make a statement for "his people" against Arabs and Muslims in light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to court documents.
"OBJECTIVE: Kill all 'rags' at this Islamic Education Center -- ZERO residual presence -- maximum effect," the plan read.
Further investigation led to the arrest of accomplice Michael Hardee, a Temple Terrace dentist. He pleaded guilty in October to conspiring with Goldstein and agreed to cooperate with authorities. He is scheduled for sentencing in May.
In October, Kristi Goldstein was arrested on a charge of illegally possessing destructive devices. She pleaded guilty in February and also agreed to cooperate with the investigation. She will likely receive about three years in prison when she is sentenced in June.
Federal agents also arrested Dunedin resident Samuel "Val" Shannahan on charges that he had illegally given two machine guns and other firearm accessories to Goldstein. He faces trial in May.
Although the plea agreement refers to Goldstein speaking with "another" person who wasn't named, prosecutor Colleen Murphy-Davis said her office has charged everyone who could be charged. "There is no other person out there who we know of at this time that we can charge," she said.
Altaf Ali, CAIR's executive director in Florida, said he had hoped the prosecutors would treat the case with "more seriousness," given the potential damage posed by the plot.
"We wanted them to treat this as a domestic terrorist cell," Ali said. "These are not tough enough sentences for what they planned to carry out."
Robert Goldstein's attorney, Myles Malman, said Goldstein's plan was to destroy property, not kill people. Goldstein suffers from "severe" obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, Malman said, but takes full responsibility for his actions. Twelve to 15 years in prison is a "very significant sentence," he said.
"This plea will help Dr. Goldstein put behind him an extremely tumultuous, troubling and stressful time in his life," Malman said.
-- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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