A Baltimore man who was accused of setting fire to his own house to collect insurance money was given a suspended sentence yesterday and ordered to pay $135,000 to his insurance company.
Richard L. Yost, 28, was charged with arson in connection with a fire in a house in the Marley section of Glen Burnie that he and another man, former Anne Arundel County firefighter Richard M. Freed, were remodeling. He entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict.
Freed, who also was charged with arson in the case, pleaded guilty in April and received a one-year suspended sentence and five years' probation. Freed was fired from the fire department Dec. 26, 1991, after a departmental hearing.
According to court records, Yost and Freed were working on the house the day before the fire, and Yost asked the firefighter about various methods of arson that would be difficult to detect.
On Jan. 15, 1991, the day of the fire, Yost called Freed at the Armiger fire station in Pasadena and told him that the house, in the unit block of Wendover Road, "was going to burn," and that he had put a blanket over a space heater in the basement.
A short time later, firefighters were called to the burning house. The blaze appeared to be accidental, and Nationwide Insurance Co. paid Yost $135,000.
But a fire department investigation traced the origin of the blaze to the space heater. During the course of the inquiry, Yost's wife admitted to an investigator that her husband set the fire intentionally.
"She made a statement, 'I know he set the fire,' but she wouldn't write it down," said Assistant State's Attorney John H. Robinson III.
At yesterday's sentencing, Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. was puzzled that a man with a clean record like Yost could become involved in such a scheme.
"How did it happen?" Judge Duckett asked. "Your behavior is so good. Everything about you is so good."
Yost replied that his wife's statement was a major factor in his plea but insisted he was innocent.
"Basically, I was accused of doing something done by someone else," he told Judge Duckett. "I did not burn my house down."
But Mr. Robinson said there was no question that Yost intentionally set the fire. Among the evidence found at the scene was a stack of unpaid bills that the insurance settlement would have covered.
"What you have is something on its face that is purely accidental, hence Nationwide paid out," Mr. Robinson said. "It's your classic arson for money."