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Rental car scene blows up to jail time for city man

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/12/2019, 6 a.m.
Arthur H. Majola went to pick up a rental car his insurance company was providing after his vehicle, which had ...
Arthur H. Majola

Arthur H. Majola went to pick up a rental car his insurance company was providing after his vehicle, which had been damaged in an accident, went into a repair shop.

But he wound up spending 54 days in jail where he became celebrated for engaging in a hunger strike that nearly killed him but forced his release.

A Richmond businessman who operates three online companies, Mr. Majola was arrested and charged July 3, 2018, with making a bomb threat to the staff of an Enterprise Rent-A-Car outlet on West Broad Street in Henrico County.

A short, slender man, he allegedly made the threat after the staff refused to provide a vehicle when he could not come up with a required $50 deposit using a credit card — a common policy at major rental car companies. All three of his credit cards were declined.

His case, scheduled for a jury trial in Henrico Circuit Court next Tuesday, April 16, is raising questions about the tough state law under which he is charged.

That law makes it a felony to threaten to bomb or blow up a building. As written, the law makes it a crime to utter the words, even if the words are spoken to blow off steam, the person has no ability to make a bomb and if the threat is knowingly false.

The offense, a Class 5 felony for an adult, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It is a misdemeanor for a juvenile.

Whether Mr. Majola even made such a threat is uncertain. Cameras inside the rental car office recorded his interaction with the staff and show him calmly talking with the staff and leaving quietly. There is no audio, but the transaction clearly looks ordinary.

Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon L. Taylor, who authorized the case, has acknowledged that the recording provides no proof of the threat.

She told the Free Press that the tape shows that neither of the two rental car staff members, both Caucasian, who waited on Mr. Majola appear to feel threatened. Neither recoiled in obvious concern or offered any body language that indicated they felt like they were in jeopardy.

They will be the main witnesses against Mr. Majola in their insistence he issued a bomb threat.

Mr. Majola is adamant the charge is bogus and has turned his life upside down.

“I didn’t make a bomb threat,” Mr. Majola insisted in an interview with the Free Press. “When I talked about blowing up Enterprise and the insurance company, I meant I was going was to sue them and make them pay for putting me through this. I have a little bit of experience with courts. I don’t know anything about explosives. I’m not a violent man, and my record shows that. It’s just a ridiculous charge.”

Whether such testimony will be enough to clear him remains to be seen. Based on the strict language of the law, Ms. Taylor continues to seek a conviction.

However, in other types of crimes, the state Supreme Court has modified tough language in the state criminal code to reflect commonsense experience.