A former Bronx teacher’s pity party was ruined Wednesday by a judge who sentenced him to five years and 10 months in prison for a bizarre bomb plot involving students.
The harsh sentence stunned Christian Toro, who pleaded guilty to manufacturing a destructive device. As part of his plea, prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence no greater than three years and 10 months.
Manhattan Federal Judge Richard Berman was troubled by Toro’s abuse of his position as an educator and mentor. The former special education teacher at Democracy Prep Harlem High School enlisted students to help dismantle fireworks and stash explosive powder for a bomb. He even paid the kids $50 an hour.
Toro also has pending charges in state court, including rape, because of a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old student. That student called in a bomb threat to Democracy Prep at Toro’s suggestion, Berman noted.
Toro’s twin brother Tyler also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next week.
“Why did you do it?” Berman said, asking the question that had bothered him since the brothers’ arrest in February of last year.
“My brother and I were exposed to fireworks from a young age,” Christian Toro, 28, replied.
“I’m ashamed for not addressing my mental health issues sooner.”
The twisted twin brothers dubbed their vague plan “Operation Flash.”
A diary labeled found in Toro’s Pelham Parkway home included lines like, “We are twin Toros strike us now, we will return with nano thermite” and “I am here 100%, living, buying weapons. Whatever we need.”
Toro’s federal defender Amy Gallicchio tried to explain the explosives-gathering operation by noting that her client suffered from anxiety and depression. Toro also developed a serious marijuana and alcohol habit after a bad breakup, she said. He gained an affinity for fireworks from his father, who loved Fourth of July celebrations.
“We are not talking about a terrorist act,” Gallicchio said. “We are talking about a collection of items, in an apartment, that were deconstructed.”
But Berman was unsatisfied. People need to be held responsible for “inappropriate behavior,” he said. In a pointed aside, he alluded to “friends and family who should have known more or should have known better,” while staring at Toro’s supporters in the courtroom.
“Today’s sentence serves as a message that building and stockpiling destructive devices are grave offenses in and of themselves,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Hanft noted that the Toro brothers had stashed ball bearings and CO2 cartridges, which are commonly used in bombs. Authorities found 30 pounds of explosive substances and a jar of crude homemade napalm on the brothers’ fire escape.