FARGO — State charges are already rolling in the case of a man accused of vandalizing a mosque in Moorhead, and federal charges are likely to follow.
Former U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon said cases like these take time to build.
"I would be surprised if federal charges are not brought in this case," he said.
The case in question involves the vandalism of the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center, which was defaced with racial slurs, anti-Islam sentiment and video game references late Saturday night.
Benjamin Enderle, 22, of Moorhead, was arrested Tuesday after a Walmart employee noticed the coat in police photos matched the coat of a person who bought spray pain from an area store over the weekend.
Charges filed at the state level give the feds in Minnesota more time to build a stronger case, Purdon said.
"It allows you to get the alleged perpetrator off the street, get them in custody," he said.
Purdon believes two federal civil rights crimes apply to this case: One for damaging religious property and another for interfering with a federally protected activity.
A standard federal case takes a couple of weeks to get a grand jury indictment, he said. When it comes to federal hate crimes, that process can be delayed by a few more weeks as it goes through an approval process in Washington, D.C.
"My guess is that there are career civil rights prosecutors in Minneapolis taking a very close look at this case," Purdon said.
Purdon oversaw the prosecution of Dominque Flanigan, who spent a year in federal prison for leaving a threatening message at a Fargo synagogue 10 years ago.
Most recently, an East Grand Forks man was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for fire-bombing a Somali coffee shop.
"There are fewer things more important for a U.S. Attorney's office than making sure that somebody proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of this sort of behavior is held accountable," Purdon said.
The two federal charges Purdon mentioned carry a maximum of four years in federal prison.
Federal sentences are usually much tougher than state court punishments.