Man arrested in connection to Baraka bus blaze

Craig D. Frazier | 4/11/2014, 7:29 p.m.
Last week, Newark mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries commented after a Newark man, charged with setting a fire ...
Ras Baraka

Last week, Newark mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries commented after a Newark man, charged with setting a fire to Ras Baraka’s campaign bus in February, was connected to Shavar Jeffries’ campaign.

“I have discovered that the suspect in the burning of my campaign bus is connected directly to the campaign of my opponent Shavar Jeffries and to his campaign manager, Carl Sharif. The man charged with the crime, Michael Benkowski, is on Jeffries’ payroll and is listed on Jeffries’ January campaign filing,” Baraka said in a statement sent to the AmNews.

Michael Benkowski, 43, was charged with third-degree arson, third-degree criminal mischief and third-degree burglary in the bus fire, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s office. Prosecutors used surveillance and other technology to identify a white van that was involved in the incident. The van was traced to Jeffries’ campaign manager. Election records show that Jeffries’ campaign paid the suspect at least $450 in December.

Baraka said he hopes prosecutors will uncover the full details of Benkowski’s connection and determine if others were involved in the burning of his bus.

“As a consequence of this new revelation in the Jeffries’ scandal, I am asking the police to investigate campaign manager Carl Sharif as well as the suspect. Was he involved? If not, when did the find out that Jeffries’ employees were involved in a crime,” Baraka added.

Jeffries’ spokeswoman, Lupe Todd said the campaign is no longer working with Benkowski. Jeffries said that he has complete confidence in the authorities. “As a former State Assistant Attorney General, I believe there should be a thorough investigation of this latest episode, to include all parties in question, as well as threats and acts of intimidation against my supporters at taxpayers’ expense. I have nothing to hide and neither should my opponent,” said Jeffries. “I strongly condemn any form of vandalism, violence, or acts of intimidation, no matter what side of the fence you’re on in a political campaign.”