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Charge Dropped Against Man Who Said He Painted Over Swastikas

May 11, 1989

UNION CITY, N.J. (AP) _ A criminal mischief charge against a man who said he painted parts of his apartment building to cover swastika grafitti was dropped Wednesday, but housing officials insist he is not telling the truth.

The housing authority for this northern New Jersey city asked Municipal Judge Joseph N. Falbo to drop the charge against Jack Stahl, 59, who was scheduled to go on trial Wednesday.

If convicted, Stahl could have faced up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

A three-member mayoral commission concluded earlier this week that it would be hard to prove that Stahl intentionally damaged the building. But the panel said a paint expert and a commission member found no evidence of Nazi symbols.

Stahl said in March that he painted over swastikas in an elevator and an eighth-floor hallway of his building because the authority had done nothing about the swastikas despite seven months of complaints by him.

He said he was spurred to act because he saw an elderly Jewish woman crying after seeing a swastika painted in the elevator. Stahl was arrested in December.

Housing Authority director Virgilio Cabello told Falbo on Wednesday that Stahl had been proven a liar. ″Mr. Stahl’s actions clearly overstepped the right of any tenants to take a matter into their own hands,″ Cabello said.

Stahl does not have a telephone and could not be reached for comment. Calls to his attorney, William Uscher, were not immediately returned.

William E. Rapfogel, one of those named to the commission by Mayor Robert Menendez, said in a telephone interview from New York that the case attracted him because he thought Stahl might be right.

″Maybe he believes he saw certain things,″ said Rapfogel, the executive director of the metropolitan council of the American Jewish Congress. ″Now I think he probably could use some help.″

He said the investigation never turned up any ″mystery Jewish woman.″

Rapfogel said Stahl might have concocted his story because of the possibility that his mother’s death might force him to move from his two- bedroom home to a one-bedroom apartment.

″The truth in this case is that Mr. Stahl fabricated a story in order to play upon the people’s fears of ethnic hatred to justify his own actions,″ Menendez said in a statement.

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