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Suspect in fire at Sen. Bernie Sanders Vermont office hit with federal charges

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Federal charges were filed Sunday against a 35-year-old man who allegedly set fire to the door of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office in Burlington, Vermont, while staff was working inside, police and prosecutors said.

Shant Soghomonian, formerly of Northridge, California, was arrested on Sunday after investigators reviewed surveillance camera footage that captured him allegedly spraying a liquid on the outer door of Sanders’ office in downtown Burlington, U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest said in a statement.

The fire unfolded around 10:45 a.m. Friday outside Sanders’ third-floor Church Street office, which is in a building that is also used in interstate commerce, Kerest said.

Sanders was not at the office at the time of the blaze, authorities said.

“A significant fire engulfed the door and part of the vestibule, impeding the egress of staff members who were working in the office and endangering their lives,” according to a statement from the Burlington Police Department.

The Burlington Fire Department fire crews quickly responded to the fire and extinguished the flames, officials said.

“Along with fire damage to Senator Sanders’s door and vestibule, water from the sprinkler systems caused significant damage to that space and other areas of the building,” police said.

Surveillance video, according to police, showed the suspect entering the building and proceeding to the third floor.

“Soghomonian was recorded on a security video spraying a liquid near the outer door of the office and then lighting the area with a handheld lighter. A blaze quickly began while Soghomonian departed via a staircase,” Kerest said.

Soghomonian, who also goes by the name Michael Soghomonian, was arrested after police released surveillance photos of the suspect and asked for the public’s help in identifying him, according to police.

A motive for the incident remains under investigation, according to police.

The suspect was charged with using fire to damage a building used in interstate commerce and as a place of activity affecting interstate commerce, according to a federal complaint.

If convicted of the charges, Soghomonian could be sentenced to 5 to 20 years in federal prison and face a fine of up to $250,000, according to Kerest.

It was unclear Sunday whether Soghomonian has hired an attorney. The suspect is awaiting his first court appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle, officials said.

“I am deeply grateful to the swift, professional, coordinated efforts of local, state, and federal law enforcement in response to the fire at my Vermont office on Friday,” Sanders said in a statement. “I am also thankful that none of the many people who were in the office building at the time of the fire were injured. I appreciate the outpouring of support and well-wishes for me and my staff. We are proud to be able to continue to serve Vermonters during these challenging times.”

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