Texas Restaurant Owner Accused in Arson for Profit Scheme

January 14, 2009

A Weatherford, Texas, restaurant owner, Jorge Gomez Pinto, Sr., has been charged by the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, James T. Jacks, with soliciting an arsonist to burn his restaurant in order to collect insurance money.

Pinto, 55, is the owner of Jorge’s Mexican Restaurant, located at 1802 Santa Fe in Weatherford. Pinto also owns restaurants in Aledo and Brock, Texas. According to the complaint, Pinto solicited an individual to conduct a “complete loss” arson at his restaurant in Weatherford in an effort to collect the insurance proceeds. The individual contacted law enforcement, according to the announcement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The complaint alleges that on Jan. 6, 2009, the individual informed Pinto that he would be willing to commit the arson, but would need to have a “friend” (an undercover ATF Special Agent) assist him. The two met with Pinto and the ATF agent told Pinto that he used to be a fireman and was willing to help him with his problem. Pinto told them that he wanted his restaurant burned to the ground and that he could not afford a partial loss. Pinto told them he was going through financial struggles because of his restaurant business and a steak house investment in which he allegedly lost $400,000. Pinto said that his insurance policy on the restaurant was $500,000 and that he would pay them 10 percent of the proceeds as soon as he received the insurance money.

Pinto stated that he planned on being at home with his family and drunk during the night of the arson so that he would have an alibi. He also said that since he recently had heart bypass surgery, he would fake a heart attack upon being notified of the arson. Pinto advised them that there were no security cameras in the restaurant, that the restaurant alarm had not worked properly for some time, and that he did not plan to have it engaged the night of the fire. He also invited the two to the restaurant to show them areas in the rear of the building and the two doors which he would leave unlocked for their unforced entry. Pinto also showed them the main electrical power box, a loose lighting fixture in a storage room, and loose wires on the wall which Pinto thought could be used to disguise the fire as accidental.

The undercover agent agreed to call Pinto the next day, Jan. 7, 2009, to collect the funds to purchase the blow torch, gasoline cans, and gasoline in furtherance of this arson-for-profit scheme. Pinto agreed that the arson would occur at approximately 3:00 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2009.

Pinto stated that he intended to use the insurance proceeds to open a sports bar in the Weatherford area.

The maximum statutory penalty for the federal charge of solicitation to commit arson, Title 18, United States Code, Sections 373 and 844(i) is 10 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

Jacks praised the investigative work of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Weatherford/Parker County Special Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bret Helmer is prosecuting the case.

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas

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