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Harassment, arson charges unsealed in alleged Amherst hate crime

WBFO/Michael Mroziak

The Erie County District Attorney has charged two men in what prosecutors say was a hate crime that began with weeks of harassment that escalated to an arson attack last December.

Indictments against 19-year-old Christian McCaffrey and 27-year-old Dino Bruscia were unsealed Monday in Erie County Court by Judge Suzanne Maxwell Barnes. McCaffrey is charged with Aggravated Harassment and Aggravated Harassment as a Hate Crime, while Bruscia is charged with Third-Degree Arson.

McCaffrey is accused of beginning a campaign of harassment against his alleged victim beginning in August 2019, including numerous menacing phone calls and text messages, and on one occasion uttering a slur against the victim, who is Jewish.

"During this time, he made several anti-Semitic comments to him," said Cantor Penny Myers, the victim's mother, outside the courtroom. "Over the course of last fall, the threats escalated, so that in December he threatened to come to my home, and murder my entire family."

On December 22, a flare was fired into their home. No one was injured but Cantor Myers struggled to control her emotions while recalling the damage caused. Bruscia is accused of firing the flare gun.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn explained why Bruscia has not been charged with a hate crime.

"I just don't have proof of that," he said. "I can't transfer any intent or any mindset of Mr. McCaffrey to Mr. Bruscia. I just can't do that through osmosis. I need proof to do that. And I don't have the proof of that."

McCaffrey's attorney, Mark Sacha, entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client, who was present in the courtroom. Bruscia, meanwhile, was taken into custody over the weekend and arraigned electronically.

McCaffrey did not comment after leaving the courtroom. Bruscia, in January, told reporters that McCaffrey's falling out with the alleged victim was not motivated by hate but was instead sparked when the victim began dating McCaffrey's former girlfriend.

If convicted of is charges, McCaffrey faces up to four years in prison. Bruscia, meanwhile, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Both defendants are free on their own recognizance. Flynn says under the state's bail reform, neither may be held in custody. While he supports the bail reform for non-violent offenses, Flynn disagrees with letting Bruscia remain free.

"I personally believe that arson is a violent crime," the district attorney said.

The Myers family shared that frustration after the arraignment.

"When the New York State Legislature passed bail reform last year, and when Governor Cuomo signed this law, they could not possibly have intended for it to apply to men such as these," Cantor Myers said. "And yet it has. For the last seven months we have been living in fear, knowing that these men are free, that they could try again."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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