Activist Gets 37 Months for Stashing Dynamite

By John Caniglia

January 25–2001

CLEVELAND-(Plain Reader)–Vartanoush Boghosian stepped onto a bus in Detroit at 5 a.m. yesterday and headed for Cleveland to support her longtime friend–Mourad Topalian.

Boghosian–95–walked out of federal court in tears. Topalian–a national spokesman for Armenian-Americans–was sentenced to 37 months in prison for having stashed 100 pounds of stolen dynamite in a Bedford storage locker.

Authorities accused Topalian–a Beachwood resident and former Cuyahoga Community College vice president–of helping to engineer a campaign of terror against Turks for the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenia’s between 1915 and 1923. "I’m very angry about this," Boghosian said. "I was a survivor. I lost my parents and two brothers. This hurts me."

Turkish-Americans who attended yesterday’s hearing said Topalian–57–deserved his sentence.

"There was a strong message sent that the motivation behind this was to commit hate crimes," said Bruce Fein–a scholar for the Assembly of Turkish American Associations–who flew in from Washington–D.C.–for the sentencing. "He stored those weapons strictly to use against Turks."

Boghosian and Fein were among about 200 people–mostly Armenian-Americans–who showed up at the U.S. District Courthouse for the sentencing. Nearly 125 people were forced to wait outside the heavily guarded and packed courtroom.

The five-hour hearing grew tense when Fein called Topalian a terrorist whose acts mark "a return to barbarism–the law of the jungle."

Topalian apologized to U.S. District Judge Ann Aldrich and asked for leniency. His Los Angeles-based attorney–Mark J. Geragos–had asked that Topalian receive 30 months.

"I don’t recognize the person they describe," Topalian said–pointing to federal prosecutors. "I don’t know that person. I go to church every day and ask God for strength."

He said he views himself as a failure because he must leave his 7-year-old daughter–Alique–who has cancer. "Alique is my life. I would never do anything to hurt her."

Several friends and supporters testified that Topalian was a great leader who has enormous compassion for children.

But Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas J. Gruscinski and Bernard A. Smith argued that Topalian showed no compassion for the children at Childtime Daycare Center–which is just 250 feet from the storage locker.

"He never took responsibility for taking those children out of danger," Gruscinski said. "He could have made an anonymous call to police saying–There is dynamite in there. Go get it.’ Or he could have had his friends do it for him. But he didn’t."

Topalian’s adult children from his first marriage wrote letters to the judge–describing a loving–caring father who taught them well. But Aldrich said the danger posed by the explosives–stored near the day-care center–a school and a gasoline station–outweighed the testimony of Topalian’s friends and family.

"The best lesson Mr. Topalian has to teach [his children] at this moment is that no one is above the law–no matter how much he believes in the rightness of his cause," Aldrich said.

Prosecutors said in documen’s that Topalian used his first wife–Lucy–to rent the storage locker in 1980–a few years after the explosives were stolen from a mining camp in Kalkaska–Mich. Lucy Topalian used fake names and paid the rent in cash.

In 1996–when the paymen’s stopped–the owner of the storage facility tried to clean out the locker and discovered the dynamite inside. Bedford police called the Bureau of Alcohol–Tobacco and Firearms. Over the next three years–ATF Agent Peter J. Elliott linked Topalian to the storage locker and dynamite.

The investigation included linking two hairs on a trench coat in the locker to Topalian through DNA tests. Elliott crisscrossed the country in search of witnesses–including Franklin Rhodes–a Wichita accountant who was pelted with shrapnel from a car bomb that exploded outside the Turkish Mission in New York City in 1980.

Authorities linked Topalian to the bombing and said he played a key role in getting the explosives to friends.

During the investigation–Lucy Topalian taped a conversation with her ex-husband about the locker–which she gave to the ATF. Gruscinski said yesterday that Topalian–since his arrest–had blamed his ex-wife for his troubles. The remark enraged Topalian’s daughters and second wife–Michelle.

"I’m not going to stand for that," Michelle Topalian yelled in court.

Marshals ushered her out of the courtroom.

Topalian’s attorney asked Aldrich to keep his client free on bond until August so he could spend time with Alique.

Citing tensions between his supporters and foes–Aldrich refused. "I don’t want him walking out of this building today."

(Courtesy of The Plain Reader)


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