Teen pleads guilty to vandalizing Gaithersburg synagogue

Sebastian Espinoza-Carranza, left, who pleaded guilty to painting anti-Semitic graffiti on Shaare Torah Congregation in Gaithersburg, confers with his attorney, Barry Helfand, prior to his hearing. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Sebastian Espinoza-Carranza, left, who pleaded guilty to painting anti-Semitic graffiti on Shaare Torah Congregation in Gaithersburg, confers with his attorney, Barry Helfand, prior to his hearing.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

A Gaithersburg teenager pleaded guilty Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court to spray-painting swastikas, “KKK” and other graffiti on Shaare Torah Congregation.

Sebastian Espinoza-Carranza, who admitted in court to vandalizing the Gaithersburg synagogue, will be sentenced Oct. 20.
Espinoza-Carranza, an 18-year-old high school senior, faced a maximum of nine years in prison for his part in the April 14 incident, which took place between 2:40 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Espinoza-Carranza admitted to damaging a religious institution, defacing religious property and malicious destruction of property valued at more than $1,000. All three charges are misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of three years each.

Three other youths also were arrested. Because they were not yet 18 at the time of the crime, their cases are being
handled through the juvenile court system.


While juvenile records are not open to the public, Sherri Koch, senior assistant state’s attorney, said, “No charges were dropped” for any of the four defendants.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, Espinoza-Carranza is expected to be sentenced to five months’ probation with the condition that he visits the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on a guided tour, speaks with representatives from Shaare Torah and writes an essay on what he has learned.

With Shaare Torah Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, synagogue president Connie Liss and his parents looking on, Espinoza-Carranza quietly answered “yes” when Judge Nelson Rupp Jr. asked if he understood the charges against him.

Several times during questioning by the judge, Espinoza-Carranza turned to his attorney, Barry Helfand, because he
did not understand the question. The Peruvian native has been in the United States six years and needed to have some questions explained to him.

When the 40-minute hearing ended, Espinoza-Carranza had tears in his eyes as he hugged his mother.

Following the hearing, Blumenthal said that Espinoza-Carranza had met with synagogue representatives and “he offered an apology.” Blumenthal said he will meet with Espinoza-Carranza again before the young man is sentenced.

The rabbi also intends to speak during the sentencing hearing.

“I think he realized he made a mistake,” Blumenthal said, adding, “He’s 18. He’s not a minor, and he is capable of making decisions.”

When arrested, Espinoza-Carranza confessed to police detectives. “He admitted to having animosity” toward Jewish people at that synagogue, Koch said.

The incident was treated as a hate crime, meaning it was an unlawful act designed to frighten, intimidate or harass a religious group, Gaithersburg Police Chief Mark Sroka said at the time of the incident.

A synagogue surveillance camera videotaped the four teenagers as they painted graffiti on the synagogue’s walls, windows and doors. The estimated value of the damages was $1,300.

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