Former Brooklyn Resident Sentenced to 25 Years to Life in Prison for Attempted Murder and Arson in Connection to Setting Fire to Rabbi’s Home


Monday, March 18, 2024

Former Brooklyn Resident Sentenced to 25 Years to Life in Prison for Attempted Murder and Arson in Connection to Setting Fire to Rabbi’s Home

Fire Destroyed Victim’s Midwood House as Well as Two Adjacent Properties,
Defendant was Captured on Video Surveillance Setting the Fire

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a Pennsylvania resident has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for intentionally setting fire to the home of a Brooklyn rabbi. The fire quickly spread to two adjacent houses, injuring six people, including a six-week-old infant, a firefighter and two police officers.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant’s actions destroyed the homes of several families and put numerous people in harm’s way. I am thankful that there were no life-threatening injuries. With today’s sentence, this defendant has been brought to justice.”

The District Attorney identified the defendant as Matthew Karelefsky, 46, of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He was sentenced today by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Donald Leo to 25 years to life in prison. The defendant was convicted of first-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson, six counts of second-degree assault, and two counts of fourth-degree arson on February 7, 2024, following a jury trial.

The District Attorney said that, according to the evidence, on June 13, 2019, at approximately 3:50 a.m., a rabbi at a local yeshiva and his wife awoke to a fire in their three-story multi-family home at 1492 East 17th Street in Midwood. The fire spread to homes on either side of the property, causing 13 residents to evacuate. Numerous individuals, including a six-week-old infant and two NYPD officers were treated for smoke inhalation. Additionally, one firefighter was treated for bruising suffered while responding to the fire.

Fire Marshals determined the fire at 1492 East 17th Street was intentionally set and that it spread to the adjacent properties. Investigators also determined the fire began underneath the rabbi’s front porch, where K9 dogs identified the smell of an accelerant and fire marshals discovered remnants of a Kingsford charcoal bag, charcoal, a plastic milk carton, empty lighter fluid containers, lighter boxes and several rags believed to have been drenched in lighter fluid.

Video surveillance taken from across the street from the victims’ homes shows the defendant setting the fire. Additionally, video surveillance from a Midwood grocery store captured the day before the incident shows the defendant purchasing Kingsford charcoal and matches.

Police arrested the defendant in Manhattan on June 15, 2019. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing a pink shirt with a white collar—a shirt he was seen wearing walking near the victims’ homes before and after the incident. The defendant has a tattoo on his forearm that reads, “Never let go of the HATRED – KILL Rabbi Max”. He also wrote numerous social media posts expressing his animosity for and intention to harm the victim.

The District Attorney thanked members of the FDNY and the NYPD, specifically New York City Fire Department Marshal Stewart Hines, retired NYPD Detective Andrew Cohen and the NYPD Arson and Explosion Squad, who investigated the case, as well as retired Allegheny County Detective Donald Pasquarelli, who assisted in the case and Police Officers Andrew Webber and Anthony Castrillon and Detective John Hostetter, of the 17th Precinct, who apprehended the defendant.

The District Attorney thanked Discovery Support Director Lisa Santapaul, Discovery Expeditor Casey Goedtel, Paralegal Supervisor Aneudy Mata, Assistant District Attorney Erin Shea, Chief Analyst Alexandra Aber of the District Attorney’s Digital Evidence Lab, Senior DEL Intelligence Analyst Christina Stewart, Mauricio Suarez, DEL Senior Digital Forensics’ Analyst and the DA’s Detective Investigators for the assistance in the case.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Sara Kurtzberg, Chief of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Litigation and Technology (BOLT), and David Kim, Deputy Chief of BOLT.