LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A Palm Desert man faces a federal charge of attempted arson in the May 31 firebombing of the East Valley Republican Women Federated office in La Quinta.
Carlos Espriu, 23, was named in the federal criminal complaint and is expected to be taken into federal custody later Thursday for an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Friday. He had already been charged in Riverside County with one count of arson of a structure during a state emergency with an enhancement of using a device designed to accelerate a fire or delay ignition, and one count of igniting a destructive device with intent to destroy property.
According to the federal criminal complaint, a masked Espriu used a metal baseball bat to break the windows of the Republican club’s office just after 1:15 a.m. on May 31. He then lighted an improvised incendiary device made up of three bottles containing gasoline, then tossed it through the broken windows, federal prosecutors allege. Espriu returned to the office at least twice, once without a mask, to smash more windows with the bat, reach into the building to retrieve the Molotov cocktails, then throw it back in, which sparked a fire, prosecutors said.
May 31 was the height of nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. According to the complaint, the investigation into Espriu identified social media accounts belonging to Espriu, including a Twitter account that had posted three days before the arson at the Republican club that said, “I wanna go burn sh— n get hit with tear gas.”
The East Valley Republican Women Federated offered a reward for information about the firebombing, which led to Espriu’s identification in surveillance video recorded by the club and a nearby business, federal officials said. The video was posted on a Gofundme page that raised almost $9,000 in an effort to pay for increased security.
“The terrorizing goes on. Their headquarters have experienced increased hostility, including: multiple harassing phone calls daily, eggs thrown at the windows, and drive by shouting accompanied by obscene gestures,” the GoFundMe page said.
The firebombing caused limited damage to the East Valley Republican Women Federated’s headquarters, according to federal officials.
According to the complaint, Espriu’s home was searched in July and a green lighter similar to the one used to the Molotov cocktails was recovered, along with audio recordings from a dashboard camera in which he tells a woman that he shaved his facial hair after seeing some of the surveillance video broadcast on local news. Federal prosecutors say Espriu is also heard describing how he made the Molotov cocktails and the firebombing as seen in the surveillance video in the recordings.
If convicted of the charge, Espriu faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.