A math teacher who paid students to dismantle fireworks and store the explosive powder was sentenced to nearly six years in prison Wednesday by a judge who cited these "dangerous times" when schools and places of worship must guard against violence.
US District Judge Richard M. Berman nearly doubled the three-to-four years called for by federal sentencing guidelines when he sentenced Christian Toro to five years and 10 months in prison.
Toro, 28, pleaded guilty in November to unlawfully manufacturing and aiding the construction of a destructive device and distributing explosive materials to a minor.
"These are dangerous times," Berman said as he explained his decision to comply with prosecutors' request that he go above the recommended sentencing guidelines range.
He cited "attacks upon our society and our way of life, including attacks against schools, for example, or against synagogues or mosques or churches."
Berman said the violence has included "attacks against our everyday routines and our everyday way of life" and urged people in positions of authority to make sure they are positive influences on children.
He added that it was "past the time for all of us to wake up and to stop accepting inappropriate behaviors as normative or just the way things are."
Prosecutors said Toro and a brother who awaits sentencing stored a cache of dangerous materials in a Bronx apartment, and Toro paid at least two students to break apart commercial fireworks and store their explosive powder in containers.
They said the powder and other explosive materials, enough to construct a bomb, were found after a student Toro was having sex with called in a bomb threat to her school.
In court papers, Toro's lawyer requested leniency, saying Toro has expressed "sincere shame and remorse" and is now "clean and sober and rehabilitated."
Berman said that Toro, who has already been incarcerated 15 months, must serve the federal sentence in addition to any time he eventually serves anywhere else.
Prosecutors noted in their sentencing submission that he has been charged with statutory rape and related charges based on his relationship with the student.
They rejected his lawyer's argument that Toro was engaged in solitary exploration to satisfy his "misplaced curiosity."
They said his actions "suggests that the defendant intended to elicit fear with his actions."