A criminal complaint was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging John Lhota with the April 3, 2022 arson of Rash, a bar and nightclub in Bushwick frequented by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Lhota was arrested yesterday and will make his initial appearance this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; John B. DeVito, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and Laura Kavanagh, Acting Commissioner, New York City Fire Department (FDNY), announced the arrest and charge.
“As alleged, Lhota deliberately set fire to a bar and nightclub patronized by members of the LGBTQ+ community, seriously injuring two of its employees, and endangering all present including the tenants of the building as well as the first responders who battled the blaze for approximately one hour,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “This Office strongly condemns such acts of violence, and will vigorously prosecute this case. The victims, and all LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, should be able to enjoy their nights out in peace and without fear of such a dangerous attack.”
Mr. Peace praised the Special Agents, Fire Marshals and Detectives of the Arson and Explosives Task Force for their outstanding investigative work on the case.
“Arson is a violent crime that impacts all New Yorkers. The prompt investigation leading to the arrest of Lhota demonstrates the commitment of the Arson and Explosive (A&E) Task Force to rapidly apprehend and bring to justice those who violently attack members of our community. ATF and its partners at FDNY and NYPD hope for the quick and full recovery of the victims,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge DeVito.
“This was a brazen act of arson that seriously injured two people, placed the lives of residents and dozens of Firefighters in grave danger, and struck fear throughout an entire community,” said Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. “I commend our Fire Marshals for their outstanding work alongside members of the NYPD and ATF to apprehend this dangerous individual.”
As set forth in the complaint, on the evening of April 3, 2022, Lhota was captured on security video purchasing a red gas canister at a service station and filling it with gasoline. Lhota then proceeded to Rash, located on the ground floor of a multi-story building at 941 Willoughby Avenue, where he allegedly poured gasoline over the floor of the bar. The video showed Lhota tossing a lit cigarette on the floor, but the gasoline did not ignite. Lhota then used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline, causing an explosion and a fire. The floors above Rash contain residential apartments. Firefighters responded to the location and extinguished the blaze. Two employees of Rash were injured and required hospitalization. The building sustained heavy damage due to the fire. Security video captured Lhota fleeing the burning nightclub.
The charge in the complaint is an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Lhota faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of 40 years’ imprisonment.