Two Plead Guilty To Arson In Scheme To Burn Rowhouses To Collect Insurance After Fires

April 22, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Two men pleaded guilty yesterday to their part in a plan to burn Baltimore rowhouses as part of an arson-for-profit scheme that indirectly led to a death and netted a group of property owners $157,000 in insurance proceeds.

Gary M. Milligan, 35, and Paul J. Bebber, 29, admitted to arson and could be sentenced to life in prison because a fire they set at 1934 E. Lombard St. went awry, causing the building to explode. During the fire, a neighbor, Arlene Pinti, 49, suffered a heart attack. Pinti died several weeks later.

A judge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore will decide how culpable the men are for the woman's death at their sentencing hearings July 25.

Milligan and Bebber were among six people indicted in a three-year scheme in which a group of property owners set 13 fires in primarily vacant rowhouses they owned so they could collect insurance. Among the others charged were two former Baltimore police officers, Gary and Ian Budny, who pleaded guilty to knowing about a plan to torch several buildings and failing to report it.

Prosecutors said yesterday that Bebber had set the fire at 1934 E. Lombard, which housed the office for Alert Detective Agency, after the owner of the detective agency conspired to burn it because of severe financial difficulties.

The owner, Thomas Smith III, who also was indicted, took out a $250,000 insurance policy on the three-story rowhouse June 30, 1995, just before the arson was carried out over the Fourth of July weekend, prosecutors said.

According to a statement of facts presented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carmina S. Hughes, Bebber "sloshed gasoline from tubs throughout the house and sprayed the interior with gasoline from a pump-action bug sprayer."

He returned later in the night with Milligan, who waited outside while Bebber went in to set the gasoline on fire, court papers said. But when he lighted a torch, it caused the building to explode because gas fumes had filled the office. Bebber was burned and covered with bricks and debris. Milligan rushed him not to the hospital but to his home. "Bebber was placed in the bathtub, covered with ice and water, and given alcohol to drink," court papers said. He wasn't taken to the burn unit of Johns Hopkins Hospital until the next day.

Pinti lived in the adjoining rowhouse, and the sound of the explosion frightened her so much that she had a heart attack, prosecutors said. She developed an infection after emergency heart surgery and died Sept. 4, 1995.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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