Holden-Matthews

Holden Matthews

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department says hate crime charges have been filed against a Louisiana man in connection with three fires that destroyed African American churches earlier this year.

A news release from the department says 21-year-old Holden Matthews faces three counts of “intentional damage to religious property,” which are hate crime charges. He’s also charged with three counts of “using fire to commit a felony.”

The indictment says the fires were set “because of the religious character” of the properties.

Matthews has pleaded not guilty to related state charges. His attorney declined comment on the federal charges.

Three historic African American churches were burned over 10 days, beginning in late March, in and around the city of Opelousas.

The June 6 federal indictment was unsealed Wednesday.

Related: Notre Dame fundraising efforts inspire people to donate nearly $2 million to rebuild burned Louisiana churches