Authorities: Man in federal custody responsible for Victoria mosque fire

VICTORIA, Texas -- Weeks after the Victoria Islamic Center went up in flames from arson, authorities believe they may have the culprit.

A federal judge in Corpus Christi denied bail for Victoria County's Marq Perez on Thursday after hearing testimony that authorities are investigating his potential involvement in a hate crime in Victoria, according to court records.

An ATF agent with took the stand along with Perez's father, who was willing to serve as a third-party custodian if he was granted bail. Perez was arrested on a charge of having an incendiary device.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Ellington found that though the man has no criminal history he is a flight risk based on the current charge and "other offenses under investigation," court records show.

An ATF spokeswoman declined to comment about the case and said she was instructed to refer all inquiries to the Department of Justice.

Attorney Mark Di Carlo, who represents the man, told the Caller-Times the charge relates to "five large firecrackers that were taped together on to one fuse." He said allegations were brought up about the mosque at the hearing but that his client has not been charged in connection with the arson.

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Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, told the Caller-Times in an email information presented in court showed Perez is suspected of burglarizing the mosque on Jan. 22 and then again on Jan. 28, when he set it on fire.

The charge he currently faces is related to a Jan. 15 incident involving a car that was set on fire, Dodge wrote. He was arrested March 3.

During the hearing, photos of the damage to a vehicle from an explosion in a residential driveway along with vandalism that included profanity was entered as evidence. Other photos that were taken in Perez's home showed guns, a knife, fireworks, two laptops and an armored vest. Photos from the fire at the mosque also were admitted into evidence at Thursday's hearing, according to court records.

An ATF agent testified that two laptops found in Perez's home were the ones stolen from the mosque on Jan. 22 and Jan. 28, the night of the fire.

Perez told authorities he found one laptop buried in his backyard and the other in his garage, according to the agent's testimony.

If convicted, Perez faces as long as a decade in federal prison in the vehicle fire case.

The Corpus Christi judge's order also notes that he is accused of using an "unregistered destructive device" and possessing loaded guns that were found in the open at a home he shares with an infant and toddler.

Those findings "demonstrate that he represents a serious danger to the community, and that witnesses against him may be in danger if he is released," the order states.

Law enforcement agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, state fire marshal's office, the Victoria fire marshal and the Department of Public Safety, began an investigation after the Victoria Fire Department put the fire out Jan. 28.

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According to an ATF news release, the fire engulfed the building and caused $500,000 in damage.

This is a developing story. Check back to Caller.com for updates.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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