Arson for Profit

Between 1976 and 1980, 38 buildings burned down in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. The fires occurred in poor neighborhoods, leaving untold numbers homeless, and resulting in 44 injured firefighters who broke bones or inhaled smoke while containing the flames.

In 1983, 2 Brooklyn lawyers, 4 real estate reps, and an insurance broker stood before Judge John Bartels on indictments that comprised the largest arson-for-profit prosecution ever pursued by the Federal Government. FBI investigators acquired access to the group’s mile-long paper trail with the help of an insider informant. The defendants would attempt to invoke both the Sixth and Fifth amendments, but the United States Federal District Court upheld the indictments.

The men would buy a building, purchase excellent fire insurance, and have it burned down. On occasion, the process took only days. They would then apply for government subsidies to rebuild and refurbish the properties into more attractive spaces.