East Bay News
Menlo Hotel owner charged with soliciting arsonist
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The owner of a downtown Oakland residential hotel has been arrested on suspicion of hiring someone to burn down the apartment building in order to claim insurance money.
Richard Earl Singer, owner of the Menlo Hotel, is in an Oakland jail facing up to 10 years in prison and a $125,000 fine. He is charged with one count of solicitation of arson, a federal felony.
According to a federal affidavit, two people came forward telling federal agents that Singer wanted to burn down one of the two Oakland residential hotels he owns. One of those people, a former employee of the property management company that runs the Menlo Hotel, became a confidential informant.
Court documents show federal agents recorded conversations between Singer and the informant, including one in which the property owner says he wants to collect insurance money for the torched building.
ABC7 reported last week the tenants of the Menlo Hotel, which is located at 344 13th St. in downtown Oakland, all received notices to vacate the building by Saturday, January 15. Court documents now reveal that was the day the arson was to take place. Singer planned to set off false fire alarms before hand, hoping firefighters would be slow to respond to the real thing.
As of last week, at least 15 people, all poor and many disabled, were still living in the rundown, bug infested residential hotel.
Singer's attorney, Paul Wolf, says his client will plead not guilty. He said the confidential informant has a criminal record.
"I don't think there was ever a chance there was ever going to be a fire at the Menlo," Wolf told ABC7. "I think it's an exaggeration and misinterpretation and the idea comes from the informant, not from Mr. Singer."
The tenants fear the worst almost happened.
"They're capable of anything here and they really just want everyone out at this point and there's no doubt in my mind they'll do anything they'll do anything," tenant Michael Monert said.
According to court documents, Singer agreed to pay an arsonist $65,000 to burn down the building.
oakland, arson, fire, crime, east bay news, cecilia vega
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