Linthicum man enters plea in fire that destroyed his home

Man was having financial troubles, going through a divorce, prosecutor says

November 01, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

John Teddy Osagie was six months behind in his $310,000 mortgage, had $25,000 in credit-card debt and his house-cleaning business was shrinking with the economy.

Four days after a judge ordered Osagie to pay $59,000 to his wife, plus upkeep on her home, to finalize their divorce, Osagie's one-story home in Linthicum went up in flames.

On Monday, Osagie, 50, entered an Alford plea to first-degree arson. He acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him, but did not admit to setting the four separate fires on March 14, 2009, that left his house uninhabitable.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge J. Michael Wachs sentenced Osagie to the 41/2 months he had served awaiting trial, plus probation, suspending the rest of a 10-year prison term. State guidelines called for up to two years' incarceration. As Osagie protested an order for a psychological exam, Wachs told him that "most people don't light their houses on fire when they get stressed out."

Osagie gave conflicting stories to fire investigators and his insurer, said Assistant State's Attorney Warren Davis III. But, Davis said, he told investigators that two men he'd met at a Home Depot in Arbutus a day before the blaze forced their way into his home, stole his wallet and made him go to bed. Osagie told the investigators that he awoke to a loud bang and ran out of the house. A police officer on routine patrol found him, holding his wallet and wearing silk pajamas — over his street clothes — unscorched by the blaze, Davis said.

James Quiggle, spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, said this type of action remains rare despite the troubled economy.

Osagie's house is in foreclosure and his insurance company denied his claim. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has lodged a detainer against him, Davis said; Osagie told his insurance company the student visa he obtained 11 years ago might have expired.

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