Prank Causes $10 Million in Damage on University of Northern Iowa Campus

October 15, 2007

A string of fires that caused more than $10 million in damages to buildings on the University of Northern Iowa campus started as prank, one of two men who started the fires said.

Aaron Scott Lessmeier said his actions were “reckless and dumb” as he entered a guilty plea in the case in Black Hawk County District Court.

Authorities said Lessmeier and Tanner James Wilkens, 24, of West Des Moines, set fires that caused millions of dollars in damages to Gilchrist, Lang and Baker halls and a portable toilet on the UNI campus during homecoming celebrations in 2005.

“This was a drunken college homecoming prank that went bad,” said Wilkens, who also pleaded guilty.

Neither Lessmeier nor Wilkens were UNI students. They have been sentenced to three consecutive 10-year prison stints, and have been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of the damage not covered by UNI’s insurance.

The total damage was about $10.2 million, and the university had a $2 million deductible on its policy.

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