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Bomb plot gets ex-wife 3 years

Published June 14, 2003|Updated Sept. 1, 2005

The former wife of a Seminole podiatrist will spend the next three years in prison for owning bombs that her ex-husband planned to use to destroy Islamic religious centers.

Kristi Persinger, 29, pleaded guilty in February to possessing five illegal bombs, which were hidden in her bedroom closet in the couple's town house. Her ex-husband, Dr. Robert Goldstein, has admitted planning the attacks and will be sentenced next week.

Persinger told authorities that she knew nothing about her husband's plot.

U.S. District Judge James Moody was skeptical.

"It's just kind of hard for me to believe that anyone could live with Dr. Goldstein and not know he was intending harm to Muslims," said Moody.

But Persinger's lawyers, and even prosecutors, said the couple tinkered with bombs, detonated them in the back yard and fired weapons for fun. It was part of their "bizarre lifestyle," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Murphy-Davis.

"As silly as it may sound, this is what they did for entertainment," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Murphy-Davis. "They dug holes in the back yard and set off bombs. Like another couple would go to the movies on the weekends, they set off bombs."

After three years of marriage, however, Persinger began to have doubts. Last year, Persinger began to take steps to leave Goldstein, said Persinger's sister, Lorrie Mixon.

"He was abusive," said Mixon. "He threatened her life."

The two divorced after the arrests, Persinger's lawyers said.

It was the couple's problems that led to their arrest.

In August, Persinger called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office during a fight with Goldstein. Deputies arrived, and discovered Persinger outside. Goldstein refused to leave. Once he did, deputies searched inside.

They found an arsenal, including two light anti-armor rockets, a .50-caliber sniper rifle, hand grenades, assorted guns, assault rifles and 20 homemade bombs. Other lethal weapons and magazines and articles on how to build destructive devices were scattered about.

Under a sheaf of papers, authorities found something more chilling: a blueprint for destroying a mosque or Islamic center in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Timers on plastic explosives would go off in 15 minutes, taking down buildings and killing Muslims. Bombs and land mines would detonate in parking lots and playgrounds, killing police and fleeing students.

Goldstein was immediately arrested. His wife was charged in October. A third man, Michael Hardee of Temple Terrace, was arrested for collaborating.

Hardee pleaded guilty in October to charges of conspiracy to maliciously damage a building. He also pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate civil rights, and to possessing a silencer and short-barrel rifle not registered to him.

Dr. Ahmad Batrawy, a dentist and member of the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, asked Judge Moody to give Persinger the maximum possible sentence.

"We feel she had some knowledge (of the plot) and didn't report it to the authorities," said Batrawy, whose society was among those targeted by Goldstein in his manifesto.

Karen Persinger, Kristi Persinger's mother, said her daughter is a happy person who grew up "only seeing the good in people.

"She didn't have a prejudiced bone in her body," said Persinger. "She's a caring, gentle, sensitive person."

Persinger's attorneys also asked Moody if she could turn herself in. Moody denied the request, saying: "I want her to be taken today."