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Prosecution argues man who set fire to Somali restaurant in Grand Forks not eligible for release

Matthew William Gust

FARGO -- Federal prosecutors are arguing that an East Grand Forks man who set fire last December to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks is not eligible for release prior to his sentencing.

Matthew William Gust pleaded guilty to two charges May 19 in federal court -- malicious use of explosive materials and interfering with a federally protected activity -- for a fire set with a Molotov cocktail Dec. 8 at Juba Coffee House and Restaurant on South Washington Street. The blaze caused at least $90,000 in damage.

Gust’s attorney, Theodore Sandberg, filed a motion May 23 asking that Gust either be released to a residential treatment facility in Grand Forks or Fargo or into his parents’ custody at their East Grand Forks home until his Aug. 29 sentencing.

Prosecutors filed a motion Friday rejecting that idea and arguing Gust is not eligible to be released, according to a federal statute.

The statute states a defendant who has been found guilty and is waiting to be sentenced can only be released if there is a “substantial likelihood” for acquittal or a new trial, the defendant will be not be sentenced to prison or if the judge finds “by clearing and convincing evidence” that the defendant won’t flee or pose a danger to the community, according to the motion written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Healy.

Gust plead guilty to “a crime of violence under federal law” and can’t argue he should receive a new trial or be acquitted, Healy wrote. Therefore, he doesn’t qualify for release, she argued.

The only way Gust could appeal his sentence is if he’s sentenced outside the guideline range required by the court or if he proves he had ineffective counsel, Judge Ralph Erickson explained at Gust’s change of plea hearing.

The prosecution is asking Erickson to deny Gust’s motion.

“Alternatively, the United States requests a hearing to present evidence of defendant’s danger to the community and likelihood of flight,” Healy argued.

In January, Judge Alice Senechal ordered Gust must remain in custody through the duration of his court case.

With these latest motions, pretrial services must evaluate whether either of these options would be suitable for Gust’s release. Erickson would make a decision on the matter.

Gust is facing 15 years in prison on his charges through a plea deal he signed.