Former Wyoming Firefighter Charged With House Fire

By BEN NEARY | June 4, 2014

A former Casper, Wyo., firefighter faces federal charges alleging he had another man torch his home and pickup truck in 2012 for insurance money.

An indictment filed last week in U.S. District Court charges Patrick Bennett, 28, with wire fraud, mail fraud and using fire to commit federal crimes.

Bennett was among the firefighters who responded to a July 2012 fire at his home in Casper, according to a report at the time in The Casper Star-Tribune.

The indictment states Bennett later collected more than $250,000 in insurance payments for damage to his home and truck.

Casper lawyer Thomas Valdez, who represents Bennett, declined to comment Monday.

The indictment alleges that Bennett got Nicholas Counts, 28, of Casper, to set the fire. Counts faces similar charges and court records don’t indicate that he has an attorney.

Mark Harshman, division chief with the Casper Fire Department, said Monday that Bennett had worked for the department for about five years before he left in December 2012.

The fire was investigated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the state fire marshal’s office because the Casper department doesn’t investigate incidents involving its own employees, Harshman said.

According to the indictment, Bennett had a mortgage on his house and owed money on his 2007 Toyota truck. Both the house and the truck were insured by State Farm.

“In the spring and early summer of 2012, Patrick Bennett was experiencing significant financial problems due to debt on his residence, his automobile, his credit cards and other obligations,” the indictment states.

The indictment gives notice that federal prosecutors intend to seek forfeiture of any property Counts got from the insurance proceeds.

According to the indictment, Bennett faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted of all four counts against him, up to a maximum possible penalty of 70 years.

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