Man charged with burning own businesses

Posted on 24 Mar 2009 at 12:07am
By Associated Press

Thornton claimed someone burned stores in hate crime attack because he is gay

STOCKTON, Mo. — An El Dorado man who claimed someone burned his three Stockton businesses because he’s gay has been charged with planning their torching himself.

Cedar County authorities have charged 38-year-old Dan Thornton with second degree arson and theft. They already charged Dina Larson and her son, Jacob Smith, with arson and theft in connection with the fires that occurred early Wednesday, March 18.

The fires destroyed the three businesses and investigators said graffiti left at the fire scene initially appeared to support Thornton’s claims to media outlets that he was being targeted for his sexual orientation and that the arson was a hate crime.

Larson and Smith were charged Thursday, March 19, following an investigation by Stockton police, the state fire marshal’s office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In a probable cause statement used to charge Thornton, an ATF agent said Larson and Smith confessed to starting the fires.

The agent also said Larson and Smith "implicated the owner, Dan Thornton, as being a participant in the scheme to burn the business for purposes of collecting the insurance proceeds from the fire." Investigators said Thornton had about $900,000 insurance coverage for the businesses.

The probable cause statement also indicates investigators obtained undercover audio recordings of conversations between Thornton and Larson during which she said she hoped burning the buildings would help Thornton. He allegedly responded, "When we get the money."

The statement claims Larson said Thornton gave her the keys to unlock the buildings in order to start the fires and steal items from the businesses. Investigators found all four back doors of the buildings unlocked.

Investigators added that Thornton was facing financial problems as Liberty Bank had begun foreclosure proceedings on his properties. He also told investigators that he was in debt and had tried to sell the buildings for a year and a half.

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