Newark mayor's race:
Baraka bus burning suspect arrested
NEWARK — Michael Benkowski, the man suspected of lighting a fire on Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka’s campaign bus, was arrested yesterday and charged with arson, according to a statement issued by acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray’s office.
On Feb. 16, the bus emblazoned with Baraka’s image and campaign slogan was vandalized, police said. A small fire was set inside the vehicle and sugar was poured into the gas tank, police said.
No one was injured and the bus is back in operation, but the incident became a flash point in what has been a contentious campaign. Benkowski, a 43-year-old Newark resident, was a paid canvasser for Baraka’s opponent, Shavar Jeffries, according to campaign filings.
A former state assistant attorney general, Jeffries has made fighting crime a central issue of his campaign against Baraka. He has denied any knowledge of the vandalism.
"The Jeffries Team for Newark welcomes the news of an arrest in this case and hopes that any individual involved is brought to justice," said Lupé Todd, a spokeswoman for Jeffries.
After the vandalism occurred, police and investigators at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office used surveillance video and photographs to identify the suspect. This week they issued a warrant for Benkowski’s arrest.
"He was arrested earlier this morning by members of the Prosecutor’s office and agents of the FBI fugitive task force," Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly said yesterday. "He was arrested in Newark without incident at an apartment on Broad Street."
Benkowski has been charged with third-degree arson, third-degree criminal mischief and third-degree burglary. He is being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility. Bail was set at $100,000.