Minnesota man who firebombed Somali cafe says he can’t afford to pay damages

Wednesday May 3, 2017

FARGO, N.D. — A Minnesota man who pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for firebombing a Somali restaurant in North Dakota is fighting the amount of money he has been told to repay.

Matthew Gust, of East Grand Forks, Minn., filed a motion Monday asking for a court-appointed attorney to help him appeal the nearly $269,000 restitution order for the fire at the Juba Coffee House in neighboring Grand Forks in December 2015. Gust is serving a 15-year prison term.

Gust says in a handwritten note that he didn’t know how much he was supposed to pay until receiving notice on April 4. He calls it “a very high amount” of money.

“I need to appeal that amount. I am running out of time to get this done,” the note says. “I got no moneys, no property, I have nothing.”

Court records show that U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson signed off on a payment plan for Gust on Jan. 26. It calls for him to work while he is in prison and make installments of at least $25 a month once he is released.

Authorities say Gust started the fire because he did not like Somalis and did not want them living in the area.
Gust’s attorney said Gust was trying to get even after he and a family member had been previously robbed at gunpoint while they were working at a sandwich shop. Gust believed the robbers were Somali.

Dozens of people of different faiths showed up for a candlelight ceremony outside the cafe a day after the fire.

Erickson said during the sentencing hearing that Gust wound up in prison due to a combination of numerous medically diagnosed conditions, drug and alcohol abuse, and Gust’s “huge anger management and impulse controls problems.”

Federal prosecutors did not return a phone call seeking comment.