Former Auburn Football Player Pleads Guilty to Alabama Restaurant Arson

September 24, 2009

Alabama businessman Tommy Lunceford Jr., a former Auburn football player, entered a “best interests” guilty plea to arson involving a fire that destroyed his Gulf Shores building, forcing a couple living there to flee.

The plea allows the 63-year-old Lunceford to acknowledge that prosecutors could have proven their case without admitting that he set the fire.

Prosecutors agreed to recommend a five-year prison sentence — the minimum under the law — and will allow Lunceford to withdraw his plea if U.S. District Judge William Steele does not accept the recommendation.

“He’s 63 and in poor health,” said assistant federal defender Fred Tiemann, representing Lunceford. “So if he were to go on trial and lose, he would have gotten 14 to 17 years under the guidelines, which would effectively be a life sentence.”

Court documents that accompanied the plea agreement described Lunceford as a “principal or aider and abettor” to the fire that ripped through Nick’s Restaurant on Nov. 8, 2007.

Nick and Cathy Cascario, the restaurant’s proprietors, were sleeping in the building when the fire started but were not injured.

Lunceford had been trying to evict the couple, accusing them of not paying rent. The Press-Register reported that court records show Nick Cascario’s real name is Richard Morrell and that his criminal record includes more than $65 million in civil judgments against him.

Under the plea agreement, a possible sentencing enhancement for “creating a substantial risk of death of serious bodily injury” will not apply.

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