Some Jewish and black leaders were quick to criticize the sentence yesterday.
All three men had pleaded guilty to bias harassment and conspiracy in several incidents in the northern part of the county directed against African Americans, Asian Indians and a handicapped man between April 1, 1994, and Aug. 31, 1996.
The three men and eight codefendants, who called themselves "The Crew," had thrown eggs, dead animals and bottles at the homes of minorities; set off firecrackers in their victims' neighborhoods; and shouted racial epithets on numerous occasions.
The 11 Crew members were arrested shortly after the swastika was spotted by a pilot in August 1996 and photographs of it were printed in newspapers, leading to county and state investigations.
Judge Marvin Schlosser sentenced Gancarz, an alleged ringleader, to five years' probation, 500 hours of community service, $2,155 in fines, and a suspended five-month jail term.
Harvey and Sentak, also purported leaders, each received four years' probation, 400 hours of community service, $1,730 in fines, and suspended four-month county jail terms.
Schlosser also ordered the three men to write 500-word essays on Schindler's List and Gandhi after either reading books on which the films were based or viewing videotapes of the movies.
The men then must write 1,000-word compositions on Roots and Native Son after reading those books. The assignments were given because, Schlosser said, he believes education is the best way to combat bigotry.
"One of the concerns I have in your case is you didn't learn too much about history in school," he told Gancarz.
Gancarz's lawyer, Steven Altman, had argued that his client was unfamiliar with World War II and the meaning of the swastika. Altman, who is Jewish, said he had since taken Gancarz to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and he said he believed Gancarz had been moved by the experience.
Schlosser said Gancarz and his two codefendants would benefit from writing essays on "the issue of hatred and its effects on people who are oppressed."
Afterward, Altman and Sentak's lawyer, John Furlong, said they had heard of such essay requirements only in juvenile court. But they agreed the essays would be good for their clients.
Calling jail time "a sword that hangs over your head to make sure you have properly gotten the wake-up call," the judge said Gancarz, Harvey and Sentak may have their jail terms vacated at the end of their probation if they completed all the conditions.
The three men could have faced up to 18 months in jail, under the terms of their plea bargains.
Charles "Shai" Goldstein, regional director of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League, and Roosevelt Nesmith, senior leader of the NAACP of Southern New Jersey, criticized the sentences.
"We are extremely disappointed that the sentence was effectively suspended," Goldstein said.
He said Estelle Sims, a 76-year-old African American grandmother, "was put in a prison of fear, and it would have been appropriate for the defendants who perpetrated acts of bigotry against her to also be put in jail."
Sims - who has since died - was subjected to repeated crank phone calls laced with obscenities and racial insults, according to state prosecutors. Residents of Mary Street in North Hanover also were subjected to various Crew "missions" for nearly two years, the prosecutors said.
"We are very disappointed," echoed Nesmith. "If these people had been minorities and committed these crimes, the outcome would have been different. There's too much leniency there."
Schlosser said that because the three men had no previous criminal records, he had decided to sentence them "in proportion" to sentences given to other Crew members.
Another accused ringleader, Ryan Kennedy, a son of Patrick Kennedy, a North Hanover councilman and a former mayor, was given four years' probation and 400 hours of community service in June.
Other Crew members received probation or pretrial intervention, a supervisory program that leaves a defendant with no criminal record. One was killed in a motorcycle accident while his case was pending.
Upon hearing that the judge was suspending the jail term, Gancarz nervously blessed himself, smiled and hugged his lawyer. Later, he looked back at his mother, who was sobbing. Before sentencing, Gancarz appeared choked up when he told the judge, "I never meant to hurt anyone, and I'm sorry."
Altman had asked Schlosser not to impose a jail sentence, saying Gancarz had been attacked by jail guards and was hospitalized for superficial injuries after he spent two days in the county jail following his arrest.
Sentak, breaking down several times, told Schlosser that he would like to "apologize to [his victims'] faces . . . and hear whatever they want to tell me." But no victims were in the courtroom yesterday.
Sentak also apologized to state prosecutors and to his parents. "I'm not a bad person, but I've done some bad things . . . and I'm ashamed," he said.
Harvey, a son of Elaine Hinkle, North Hanover's township clerk, expressed similar sentiments. "I can't take back what I did. I wish I could. I regret it," he told Schlosser.
The three men, all wearing suits and appearing somber, were accompanied by family members at the sentencing. None would comment afterward.
State prosecutors said the Crew's schemes also had included shining spotlights on black residents while insulting them, painting KKK on the street, and throwing paint at the home of a learning-disabled man. Prosecutors said the swastika had been carved to further intimidate victims of the harassment.
Without the plea agreements reached Sept. 28, the three men could have faced 10 years in state prison.
Deputy Attorney General Robin Parker, who heads the state's Office of Bias Crimes, had asked for county jail time for the defendants, saying they "got together to hurt people, simply based on who they were."
Parker said the acts were not "just pranks," as the defense contended, but were acts of terror. Afterward, Parker said he was glad that "jail time hangs over" the defendants to remind them to stay out of trouble.
"Often these cases go unpursued and unpunished, and I am happy we pursued it to the end . . . to show there will be zero tolerance for bias crimes," he said.
Jan Hefler's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org