Chicago Sun-Times: Same hate crime, new U.S. charges against convicted Burbank man

In 2003, Eric Nix was charged with a hate crime after he hurled a fireworks-type mortar into a Muslim family’s van in Burbank.

But months later, Nix got off with what the Muslim community called an “unfathomable” sentence — two years probation and anger management classes.

That case was in state court.

In an unusual move, federal prosecutors stepped in Monday and arrested Nix, 26, slapping him with federal civil rights charges for the same incident. This time, Nix faces up to 10 years in prison if he’s convicted.

‘He could have killed somebody’

The feds also charged Nix’s friend, Daniel Alba, 31, with lying to federal agents in an alleged attempt to lead them astray. Both men, who live in southwest suburban Burbank, pleaded not guilty and were released on a $10,000 bond Monday.

Nix is accused of lighting an explosive inside a van belonging to the Salmi family, parked on the 7700 block of South Mayfield.

The Palestinian Muslim family filed a lawsuit earlier this year in Cook County Circuit Court against Nix, seeking at least $100,000 in damages.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sergio Acosta said he couldn’t comment on why the feds brought charges in the same case.

But at the time of Nix’s probation sentence in 2003, an Islamic group demanded a federal investigation, saying if it were a Muslim who bombed a van, he’d be held on severe charges. That same group applauded the new charges Monday.

“He throws a bomb in a van, he could have killed somebody, and they give him anger management classes. We obviously don’t believe that was appropriate,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group. “I think the original case did not take into account the seriousness of this person’s actions. I think it’s entirely appropriate to bring federal charges against him.”

Nix was arrested early Monday while performing community service he must do for the state conviction.

Nix was brought up on three state felony charges for the 2003 incident — arson, criminal damage to property and committing a hate crime. He also served a month in prison in 2001 after an Oak Lawn Police officer saw him throw a brick through the window of an Arab-owned furniture store in Burbank. The incident happened two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

An attorney said the Salmi family was pleased to hear of the new charges.

“Terrorism affects all Americans, including Arab Americans,” said Betsy Shuman-Moore of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “Violence and intimidation based on religion and ethnic origin violates a wide array of state and federal criminal and civil laws, which should be enforced fully.”

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