Multimedia reporter

Man Is Acquitted in Fake Dynamite Case

THE NEW YORK TIMES – City Room, published 21 October, 2009

A judge on Wednesday acquitted a Brooklyn maintenance worker who was arrested in 2007 for carrying a bundle of fake dynamite he found in the trash.

Ending a bench trial, the judge, Acting Justice Vincent M. Del Giudice of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, scoffed at prosecutors’ argument that the worker, Robert Lopez, intentionally caused a scare when he sat on his stoop with the theatrical prop.

“Would you prosecute all the people who sit on their porch with a lighter that looks like a grenade?” Justice Del Giudice asked one of the prosecutors, Brandon Story.

The saga unfolded on July 22, 2007, when Mr. Lopez was taking out the garbage at Cadman Towers, an apartment complex on Clark Street in Brooklyn Heights. He said he found what was a clearly bogus bundle of dynamite.

Mr. Lopez took the prop with him, with plans to turn it into a piggy bank, figuring the hollow sticks were perfect for piling quarters. He was on his way home when two transit workers spotted the fake bomb and called the police.

As Mr. Lopez sat on the stoop of his apartment building, at 46 St. Felix Street, catching his breath on the hot summer day, the police descended on him.

Mr. Lopez, 40, was indicted on charges of violating a state law that makes “placing a false bomb or hazardous substance” a felony that carries up to four years in prison.

Mr. Story and a fellow prosecutor, Christopher Eribo, argued that Mr. Lopez caused public alarm by carrying the device from his job to his home and by “placing” it on his stoop.

Joshua Horowitz, Mr. Lopez’s lawyer, insisted his client was a victim of overzealous prosecution.

“My client was just resting on the porch of his own house where he had been living for four years, would he ever wanted to hurt his neighbors?” he said.

Shortly before the judge’s verdict, which came after months of postponed hearing, Mr. Horowitz had advised Mr. Lopez to consider taking a plea deal that would have given him three years’ probation.

“Why should I plead guilty if I haven’t done anything?” Mr. Lopez said before entering the courtroom.

Mr. Lopez, who has no job, said he was soon going to be homeless because he had no money for rent. But he said he was more worried for his mother, who he said received a diagnosis of cancer last week.

“My mom is going to be happy, my sister is going to be happy, all my family is going to be happy,” Mr. Lopez said. “And the bond guy is going to clap his hands — every time I see him he asks me why I’m still going there.”

Mr. Horowitz said coming out of the court, “I feel on top of the world. It’s like winning the World Series.”

Mr. Lopez looked at him and smiled.

“Remember my promise?” Mr. Lopez asked his attorney. “Now I have to take you to a steak restaurant.”

Mr. Horowitz did not decline the offer.