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Richmond man charged with threatening Muslims

Contra Costa prosecutors charged a 55-year-old Richmond man with making criminal threats against Muslims, but said a suspected pipe bomb in his home was a fake.

At his arraignment Wednesday, William Celli pleaded not guilty to a felony count of making criminal threats with a hate-crime enhancement and a misdemeanor hate crime charge, said Derek Butts, Contra Costa County deputy district attorney. If convicted, Celli could face a maximium of seven years in prison.

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Celli is alleged to have "threatened to harm the Muslim community" when he encountered a Muslim man in passing last week, Richmond police Lt. Felix Tan said. After the man called the police, it triggered a closer look at Celli, Tan said.

On Sunday, three days after the alleged threat, Richmond detectives and a SWAT team searched Celli's home on McBryde Avenue. They found what appeared to be the makings of a pipe bomb, Tan said. A Walnut Creek police bomb squad detonated the device and said it was inert.

"It was an object that was probably constructed to appear to be a bomb, but had no properties that could have made it explode," Butts said.

During the arraignment, the Contra Costa Times reported, Butts revealed details about the Dec. 4 incident.

"He was making generalized threats, talking about killing them and blowing them up," Butts said, according to the paper. "It was an extremely reckless action."

Celli often expressed his political views on Facebook. Sometimes he'd be "ranting and raving" about Muslims on his posts, said Maria Banks, who was a childhood friend of Celli's.

"It wasn't anything threatening," she said.

But then, Banks saw a picture of a metal pipe with black and red wires and a black box that looked like a timer.

"Home Depot don't sell stuff this big here's a crude device for you," Celli's post read.

The post worried Banks, who reported it to the Wethersfield Police Department in Connecticut, where she lives, on Dec. 6. An officer from the department followed up and took copies of the screenshots she'd taken.

The same day, an officer for a California law enforcement agency also followed up with her and she provided copies of the photos to that officer as well.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 7, and Celli's bail is set at $200,000. Judge Nancy Stark issued a protective order at the arraignment prohibiting Celli from coming within 100 yards of one particular mosque member and the Richmond Islamic Center, Butts said.

In a statement Wednesday, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said the threat seems to have been influenced by "hateful and divisive rhetoric that is being used on a national level by presidential candidates."

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"The disturbing proliferation of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and all around ignorant displays of resentment for various groups of people is impacting us all," Butt said. "It is unacceptable, and together we can ensure that no community has to feel alienated or threatened like this again."

Times staff writers Ruben Vives and Taylor Goldenstein contributed to this report. 

Follow me on Twitter @brittny_mejia

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