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Anti-Semitic Hate Crime in the O.C.: Teens Behind Bars for Violent Mugging, Assault

Matthew Branstetter, one of the suspects
Matthew Branstetter, one of the suspects
Orange County Sheriff's Department

After a pipe-bomb scare at a Santa Monica synagogue this morning, the Orange County Sheriff's Department just released the details of an (unrelated) anti-Semitic hate crime at a "youth sports park" in Coto de Caza last night.

According to City News Service, two 19-year-olds from Rancho Santa Margarita (along with a third man, who's still at large) allegedly accosted their 23-year-old victim at 8 p.m., right around Via Pajaro and Vista del Verde, in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood.

"Three suspects approached and asked him for money,'' sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino told the news wire.

"He said he didn't have any, so they began hitting him and kicking him, and one of the suspects hit him from behind in the head with an unknown object, possibly a tree branch.''

Nolan Wickham, the other suspect
Nolan Wickham, the other suspect
Orange County Sheriff's Department

The victim, who had to undergo immediate surgery for his injuries, alleges that his assault was accompanied by a string of cuss words and anti-semitic slurs. It ended when he collapsed from the blows -- and the three thugs made off with his jacket, wallet and cellphone.

Matthew Branstetter and Nolan Wickham, both 19, were identified as two of the assailants after the victim told sheriff's investigators he had recognized one of them.

Both are currently in jail, under $50,000 bail, for theft and committing a hate crime.

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