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Second Man Charged In Fire That Destroyed Newark Candidate’s Campaign Bus

Shareef Q. Nash

Shareef Q. Nash is charged in connection with the arson of a campaign bus belonging to Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka. (Credit: Essex County Prosecutor’s Office)

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A second man has been charged with setting fire to a bus that belonged to the campaign of Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka.

Shareef Q. Nash, 35 of South Orange, was charged with first-degree arson for hire and conspiracy to commit arson in the Feb. 16 incident, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office announced Thursday.

Nash’s bail was set at $200,000 by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Robert H. Gardner, prosecutors said.

Another man, Michael Benkowski, 43, of Newark, was arrested last Friday by Prosecutor’s detectives and the FBI. He was charged with third-degree arson, criminal mischief and burglary and ordered held on $100,000 bail.

The bus was parked in front of the Baraka campaign headquarters at 423 Central Ave. in Newark, when it was set on fire and sugar was put in the engine, prosecutors said.

Surveillance video and other technology revealed that a white Chevrolet Express van was involved in the arson.

On March 7, the 2007 Chevrolet Express van was pulled over near Morris and Central avenues in Newark, prosecutors said. Nash was driving the van, which was registered to his company, Prestige Professional Management LLC of Newark, prosecutors said.

Benkowski allegedly used the van to commit the arson.

Investigators earlier said they traced the van to a person who is paid to work for the campaign of Baraka’s opponent, Shavar Jeffries.

Jeffries issued a statement calling the behavior unacceptable and saying anyone involved in the arson must be prosecuted.

Baraka currently serves as councilman for the South Ward of Newark. Jeffries works as a civil rights attorney.

The election is set for May 13.

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