Suspect nabbed in arson fire at Sen. Bernie Sander's office

Suspect Shant Soghomonian, 35, was arrested for setting fire outside Sen. Bernie Sander's office in Burlington, Vermont, on April 5, 2024. -- Credit: Burlington Police

(BURLINGTON, Vt.) -- Federal charges have been filed against a 35-year-old man who allegedly set fire to the door of Sen. Bernie Sanders' office in Burlington, Vermont, while seven 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 lighter fluid on the outer door of Sanders' office in downtown Burlington, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.

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, U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest said in a statement.

Sanders was not at the office at the time of the blaze, but seven members of his staff in the office and other offices in the building were occupied, including a Chase Bank, according to the criminal complaint.

"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.

Investigators found a canister of lighter fluid near the door, according to the criminal complaint.

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 around 4 a.m. Sunday at a La Quinta Inn in South Burlington, where staff recognized him from surveillance images police released as a guest who had been staying at the hotel for several weeks, according to an unsealed search warrant affidavit filed in the case.

Soghomonian was taken into custody after he allegedly tried to block his hotel room door with "heavy items," prompting police to force open the door, according to the search warrant affidavit.

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."

Monday, April 8, 2024 at 1:07PM by Bill Hutchinson, ABC News Permalink