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Man charged with hate crime at JFK is Worcester businessman, political donor

The Worcester man charged with assaulting a Muslim airline worker and telling her “Trump is here now” and “he will get rid of all of you” is a prominent local business owner who has donated more than $18,000 to political candidates of both parties.

On Friday, three of the recipients -- Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, both Republicans, and Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty, a Democrat -- said they would return the money they had recieved from Robin A. Rhodes

“The governor and lieutenant governor do not condone that sort of behavior and intolerance,” said Jim Conroy, a spokesman for the Baker-Polito political committee. Polito will return $1,500 and Baker $1,000, he said.


Petty said he would give back $235 that Rhodes gave him last year.

“I spent my whole career making this a welcoming city, and this goes against everything we stand for,” he said.

Rhodes, a frequent attendee at fundraisers, golf tournaments, and other community events in Worcester, could not be reached for comment Friday.

He is the founder and president of the Cryogenic Institute of New England, a Worcester business that provides a deep-freezing service called Nitrofreeze to remove excess material from plastic and metal parts.

The company is a member of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and says on its website that its values include “respect, dignity and diversity in our workplace.”

On Thursday, prosecutors said, Rhodes was returning from Aruba and waiting for a flight to Massachusetts when he started harassing a Delta employee who wears a hijab, as she sat in her office in the Sky Lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Rhodes approached the door and, according to prosecutors, asked the woman, Rabeeya Khan: “Are you [expletive] sleeping? Are you praying? What are you doing?”


He then allegedly punched the door, which struck the back of Khan’s chair.

Khan asked Rhodes what she had done to provoke the outburst, and Rhodes continued his profane tirade, according to a statement from the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown.

Rhodes said to her: “You did nothing but I am going to kick your [expletive] ass,” the statement said.

Rhodes then allegedly kicked Khan in the leg and blocked her from leaving the office when she tried to escape, prosecutors said. She later ran out of the office when another person approached to calm Rhodes down.

But Rhodes followed her and got down on his knees in a mocking imitation of a Muslim at prayer, the statement said.

“[Expletive] Islam, [Expletive] ISIS, Trump is here now,” the statement quoted Rhodes as saying. “He will get rid of all of you. You can ask Germany, Belgium and France about these kind of people. You will see what happens.”

Rhodes was charged Thursday with third-degree assault as a hate crime, second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime and other crimes.

“This is what Donald Trump is creating -- an atmosphere of fear and hate,” Petty said. “People feel like they’re entitled to say and do anything they want. It’s shameful. This whole thing is not right. You’ve got people living in fear.”

Rhodes faces four years in prison, if convicted. A judge set bail at $50,000. It was not clear if he had been released Friday.


Rhodes’ court-appointed attorney in Queens, P. Scott Dufault, declined to comment. He said he believes Rhodes is planning to hire another attorney.

The allegations stunned some who knew Rhodes.

“It’s profoundly out of character,” said Ronald C. Lasky, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth who worked with Rhodes about 15 years ago. “It almost strikes me as some sort of breakdown or something.”

Khrystian E. King, a Worcester city councilor, denounced the crime.

“We certainly don’t stand for that in our city,” he said. “A lot of our colleagues, a lot of our neighbors, are Muslim.”

Levenson can be reached at michael.levenson@globe.com