Former Auburn Punter Lunceford Charged with Restaurant Arson

January 9, 2009

Federal agents have arrested and charged former Auburn University punter Tommy Lunceford Jr. with arson, obstruction of justice and intimidating law enforcement officers in a fire that destroyed his restaurant building in Gulf Shores in Alabama.

Lunceford, 62, was arrested at his Gulf Shores home, said Mike Messinger of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Mobile.

Authorities say Nick’s restaurant was burned in 2007 for insurance money. The building had been leased to Nick and Cathy Cascario, who narrowly escaped the fire.

Lunceford has maintained his innocence and was set for an appearance in U.S. District Court in Mobile.

Messinger said investigators concluded an accelerant placed in the restaurant caused the blaze. The fire broke out amid reports Lunceford had been feuding with the Cascarios over his attempt to evict them.

The intimidation and obstruction charges stem from anonymous greeting cards Lunceford is accused of sending to Messinger, another ATF agent and the state fire marshal during the probe.

Messinger said the Valentine’s Day cards each man received in February last year stated: “I will monitor your phone calls and e-mails. How does it feel to have the shoe on the other foot?” The cards were signed simply, “Guess Who,” Messinger told the Press-Register in Mobile.

Agents linked them to Lunceford by tracing the bar code on the greetings cards to the store where they were sold — a Target store near Lunceford’s Gulf Shores home, Messinger said.

Messinger said investigators reviewed surveillance video showing Lunceford making a purchase and matched the greetings cards received by the agents to DNA from the defendant.

The arson investigation has blocked any insurance payment on the property, bought by Lunceford Properties for $1.84 million in May 2005.

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