Homeowner accused of arson insurance scheme
(1/17/07 - KTRK/HOUSTON) (KTRK) -- We thought it was a hate crime. Now investigators say it was just the work of a dumb crook.
It did take them 15 months to file a charge. But now that they've laid their case out, it all seems to make sense.
Investigators thought it was strange when neighbors saw the man moving all sorts of stuff out of his home 20 hours before it caught fire. But they had to untangle bank records and racial slurs before the light bulbs really went off.
For 15 months fire marshals say Samuel White got away with arson, until these light bulbs unraveled his whole plan.
Sr. Fire Investigator Dustin Deutsch said, "Everything you could do wrong he did wrong. Everything you shouldn't do, he did do."
On October 11, 2005 the home White had owned for five years caught fire. When the fire was out, investigators found racial slurs spray painted on 14 walls. They thought it was a hate crime.
"It actually brings a spotlight to a house -- a crime that shouldn't be there," Deutsch said.
But when you look a little closer -- the slurs are misspelled and the swastikas are backwards. So maybe the perpetrator wasn't a good student of hate -- or maybe it wasn't a hate crime at all.
Deutsch explained, "It's a textbook case of homeowner involved insurance arson scheme."
It turns out Mr. White owed back taxes, insurance, mortgage and homeowner's fees. The house was days from foreclosure. A fire dog found the strong scent of gasoline all over the home.
The photos of the fire show there's no furniture, no blinds on the windows, no appliances and no bathroom light bulbs. Investigators say they found the blinds at the home of White's girlfriend. A refrigerator was in her garage. And they found a box of eight bathroom light bulbs on the floor there, too.
"The entire neighborhood saw this man take a refrigerator, landscape rocks, blinds, light bulbs within 24 hours of the fire out of the house," Deutsch said.
It was enough to get White charged with arson, but investigators can't find him. He led Houston cops on a chase on November 3 and he's on bond for that. But apparently he's still running.
If it was insurance fraud, it worked for a time. The bank was paid its back mortgage and investigators tell us Mr. White was paid about $10,000. He denied involvement to investigators and has not been arrested yet.
(Copyright © 2007, KTRK-TV)
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