Fla. butcher admits guilt in trying to bomb Peres

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Orthodox Jewish man faces a 10-year prison sentence for planting a bomb in a synagogue here in an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Harry Shapiro, 31, entered a guilty plea last week, a day after he was officially charged in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville with using an explosive to commit a felony: threatening an official guest of the United States.

The crime carries a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

Shapiro is expected to be sentenced in about two months. He has been in custody since Feb. 24, when he turned himself in, and will receive credit for time served, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux.

Prosecutors could have sought up to $250,000 in fines but opted not to do so, Devereaux said.

Had he gone to trial, Shapiro would have faced additional charges and the possibility of a 40-year prison term.

As his relatives watched, Shapiro told the court March 19: "I placed gunpowder in a pipe. I placed it in a house of worship. I threatened a life of a human being with it. I called 911 and issued a threat to keep Mr. Peres from speaking."

Friends of the former kosher butcher have said he is opposed to Peres' advocacy of exchanging land for peace in the Middle East.

Shapiro admitted to calling in a bomb threat Feb. 13, hours before Peres spoke at the Jacksonville Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue. Bomb-sniffing dogs combed the building but found nothing, and Peres delivered his speech uninterrupted.

Nine days later, children found the device, which was detonated by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office bomb squad. No one was injured.

Shapiro's defense attorneys said Shapiro did not intend to injure Peres or the audience of 1,500 and that he had made an inoperable device.

"It was important for Mr. Shapiro to make clear that, in his mind, he never intended to hurt anybody," defense attorney Hank Coxe told the Florida Times-Union after the hourlong hearing.

The fact that the device did not explode or might not have been functional was not a factor in the federal charge, Devereaux said.