CA Store Furniture Owner Suspected of ArsonInsurance Fraud — By Trace America on August 15, 2012 at 2:37 PM
Arson investigators in Bakersfield, CA suspect the owner of Home Décor Furniture of burning down his own business to obtain a fraudulent payment from his insurance company. We know he’s presumed innocent until proven guilty; but we’ve heard of much weirder things happening.
According to InsuranceNewsNet.com, on June 26th the business burned until it was deemed “a total loss” by firefighters. The damage to the 40,000-square-foot property was estimated at $3 million.
Now, investigators believe the business owner, Peter Phan, may have set fire to the building to alleviate his financial woes, according to a search warrant filed in Kern County Superior Court. Phan owned the furniture business, but not the building.
As of now, investigators have seized the cell phone records of Phan, who says he was asleep when he got a call from his alarm company about the fire. Investigators are hoping that his cell phone records will show Phan’s location during the fire.
The morning of the fire Phan stated, “I never imagined a big fire like this could happen because it’s a metal building. I don’t know how it could burn down a whole big store.”
Bakersfield Fire Department Captain Victor Mabry described the investigation of the fire in the search warrant, which as executed on August 2nd.
According to the warrant, the fire appeared to have started in three different locations, at each of which rectangular boxes and furniture were gathered. No accidental source of ignition was found at any of the three locations either.
“All three locations were ignited using common combustibles found on scene (cardboard, furniture cushions) and an open flame device such as a cigarette lighter or match,” Mabry wrote in the warrant.
The warrant also noted another interesting aspect: the fact that there was no sign of forced entry into the building. When firefighters responded to the fire, all of the front doors were still locked and there were no holes in the sides of the building that someone could have used to get inside.
And as with a lot of people who commit arson, and even with many people across the country in general, Mabry discovered during the course of the investigation that Phan was going through financial difficulties. There was a check for $6,900 for the June lease payment for the store that had bounced, plus the anonymous tipster who told investigators that Phan told his employees that the business was going into debt and he didn’t know if he could pay them.
Allstate, who provides Home Decor’s insurance, was also close to canceling the policy due to three separate insurance claims against the business.
Jim Klapthor, a spokesman for Allstate, said when insurance fraud is suspected due to “telltale signs,” the claim will be investigated by the company’s special investigation unit. Then, if those investigators find proof, they contact the local district attorney, the state department of insurance, or both.
Klapthor stated, “Insurance fraud is real, and it’s a real problem, and it affects everyone’s insurance rate.”
Mabry wrote, “I believe the result of this search warrant will show that Peter Phan intended to set fire to and burn Home Decor Furniture in order to defraud Allstate Insurance Company.”
This post is authored by Trace America.