A 34-year-old Palo Alto man charged with vandalizing and setting two fires at a business he co-owns in San Carlos pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday, June 7, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.
Noah Mark Minskoff, a former Army Ranger and Palo Alto resident, was arrested twice last December at Thermo Essence Technologies, a small business he co-owns. The company manufactures vaporizers and electronic cigarettes.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the San Mateo Sheriff's Office received a call on Dec. 15 that there was a problem at the business on 371 Industrial Road. They arrived to find the business had been vandalized.
"Things were knocked over, thrown around," Wagstaffe said. "It was basically in disarray."
Property inside the building had also been set on fire. Wagstaffe said the damages exceeded $10,000.
Minskoff was present, "acting bizarrely both in what he said and what he was doing," Wagstaffe said.
Minskoff was going through a divorce at the time and Wagstaffe said was suffering "what is described as a mental breakdown."
Sheriffs deputies took Minskoff to the psychiatric ward at the San Mateo Medical Center, where he was committed, released and then taken into custody.
The deputies also found a loaded firearm in the building, Wagstaffe said.
Two days later, the sheriff's office was again called out to Thermo Essence Technologies. Minskoff had started a second fire, coating the floor with a kind of accelerant, Wagstaffe said. The business had also been ransacked in a similar manner as before.
When the sheriff's walked into the building, Wagstaffe said that Minskoff "calmy" asked them if they were there to apply for a job.
He was again taken to the psychiatric ward and committed. The deputies also searched the business warehouse with the other co-owner, Nathan Terry, and found a few magazines of ammunition and assault rifles. Wagstaffe said detectives told him the weapons and ammunition belong to Minskoff.
"He's not charged with possession of any firearms, but he does have numerous firearms," Wagstaffe said. "What you and I both know nationwide is that firearms and mental health are a bad mix."
Geoffrey Carr, the attorney representing Minskoff, said that Minskoff had previous traveled from Utah to California, bringing weapons with him that are legal in the former state and illegal in the latter. The weapons were "suppressed" by a judge and are no longer part of the case, Carr said.
Minskoff was charged with two counts of arson, one count of felony vandalism, one count of felony possession of brass knuckles and one count of resisting arrest (a misdemeanor). He was released from custody last week after posting $150,000 bail and on the condition that he would remain in an psychiatric facility in the meantime.
"He's doing better, he's in psychiatric treatment, he's back with his wife, he's stabilized," Carr said of Minskoff. "He's doing well."
Wagstaffe said Minskoff could receive up to a maximum sentence of 10 years, but that the end goal is to get him the psychiatric help that he needs.
Carr said his defense will involve whether or not Minskoff is found to be mentally competent and capable of making the decision to commit the crimes with which he's charged.
A pretrial conference is set for July 29 and a jury trial day for September 3.
This article previously incorrectly stated that Minskoff was a general surgeon at Stanford. The mistake has been corrected.