An Aroostook County man was being held at a Massachusetts jail after he was arraigned Tuesday on charges he tried to burn down a predominantly Black church in the state.

Dushko Vanelinov Vulchev, 44, of Houlton pleaded not guilty to six criminal charges, including three counts of attempted arson and three counts of malicious destruction connected to the vandalism of several cars in Springfield, Massachusetts. The arson charges are being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Springfield District Court Judge Kevin Maltby set Vulchev’s bail at $25,000 cash. Assistant Hampden County District Attorney James Forsyth warned the judge that Vulchev has no ties to Massachusetts. Forsyth said Vulchev poses a flight risk, and could flee to Canada if he is released.

During Tuesday’s arraignment, Vulchev’s court appointed attorney, Nicholas Raring, argued that police mistakenly identified his client from photographs in the series of December fires that were set at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield and should be released on personal recognizance.

“He asserted to me that he thought it was very important to tell the court that he is a devout Christian Orthodox, that he would never do something like this. That this is simply a case of mistaken identity,” Raring told the judge, according to a report in The Republican, a newspaper based in Springfield.

Vulchev is linked to setting three fires at the Martin Luther King Jr. Presbyterian Church in Springfield on Dec. 13 and Dec. 15, prosecutors said. He has not been charged in connection with another more damaging fire at the church on Dec. 28 that made the building unusable. That fire is still under investigation as a possible hate crime.

Vulchev was tied to the fires and the vandalism by his car, which was seen in the area. He was arrested in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on Thursday. Investigators have not disclosed a motive in any of the fires. His next court date is Feb. 5.

Vulchev has a criminal history in Maine that dates to 2016, according to records obtained from the Maine State Bureau of Identification.

Vulchev was convicted of  domestic violence assault, obstructing the reporting of a crime, theft, domestic violence terrorizing and criminal restraint in November 2017. A charge of kidnapping was dismissed by the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office.

In April 2016, former Houlton Police Chief Joe McKenna told the Press Herald that Vulchev was charged with kidnapping, assault and domestic violence for holding his naked girlfriend against her will.

In federal court in 2015, Vulchev pleaded guilty to threatening a foreign official. The Bulgarian native sent a threatening email to a Bulgarian economist who is a member of the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union in Belgium, saying, “I will kill you like chickens.”

Vulchev is a native of Bulgaria who is now a U.S. citizen.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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