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Arson Case Briefs

provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
for more information on this Brief, contact:
ATF, Arson and Explosive Programs Division - (202) 927-7930


Advance Resins
Chicopee, MA
March 4, 1994


A. CASE AGENT: Michael Bouchard

B. FIELD DIVISION/OFFICE: Springfield/Boston

C. PHONE: 413-785-0007

D. PROSECUTOR:

Jeff Kinder
Assistant United States Attorney
Judicial District of Massachusetts

E. SYNOPSIS AND EVIDENCE:

On March 5, 1994, a fire was discovered at Advance Resins in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Advance Resins was involved in recycling plastic products. Its owner claimed to have suffered a $3.5 million loss.

Advance Resins was housed in two old B-52 aircraft hangars, which housed their offices, storage warehouse and manufacturing plant. During late 1993, Advance Resins began storing products in an adjacent B-52 hangar without the owner's permission. Shortly thereafter, the owner of that warehouse (known hereafter as building 3) advised Advance Resins to either move out or pay rent. During the investigation, it was determined that a number of important factors occurred during this time frame.

1. The owner of Advance Resins, Mark Bruck, made a verbal claim of a $3.4 million loss the day after the fire. In fact, while the building was burning, the owner estimated its loss.

2. The Chicopee Fire Department and the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal were unable to conduct a preliminary examination until March 8, due to "rekindles." After doing so, they requested ATF assistance. Due to the magnitude of the scene and circumstances surrounding the fire, the National Response Team was requested.

3. The investigation revealed: the fire was deliberately set in various areas throughout the building.

4. Mark Bruck and Advance Resins were experiencing significant financial difficulties.

5. Advance Resins was in the process of an attempted expansion, and it had acquired several production machines at auction. Neither of the production machines worked, in fact one lacked all of its component parts. The company lacked the capital to purchase modern machines. The company had already contacted potential customers and claimed it had the equipment to complete the new product line. In fact, Advance Resins told creditors that they were ready to start with a new production line in an attempt to ward off foreclosure on their loans.

6. During preceding months, Bruck had lost a civil suit in which he was held liable for compensatory and punitive damages.

7. Advance Resins was in arrears $33,000 to the gas company and approximately $6,000 to the electric company.

8. Bruck had increased the insurance on the building by $1.9 million just 10 days prior to the fire. He told the insurance company that he was leasing the building (Bldg. 3) and the owners required him to insure it and the contents; however, Bruck in fact had no lease, nor was he required to insure a building he did not own.

9. An ATF audit determined that the company was near bankruptcy at the time of the fire. His suppliers placed Advance Resins on C.O.D. and he lacked the cash flow to purchase basic supplies to continue his business. Bruck had laid off several workers, was behind in his salary payments to employees and had simply not paid contractors who performed work for him.

10. The day prior to the fire, Bruck went to a local bank for a loan. During the preceding year, the bank he was doing business with called his loan (asset based lending agreement) and caused him to switch to a conventional loan.

11. The investigation uncovered evidence of bank fraud that dated back to 1988, Additional evidence was uncovered relating to wire fraud, and insurance fraud relative to the arson.

12. Bruck and his wife used fictitious inventory and sales records to deceive creditors and the banks. This was done under the asset based lending agreement. In this case, Bruck listed fictitious sales to companies and created phony sales invoice records, which were given to the bank as evidence of sales. Additionally, they inflated the value of inventory and used the increased value as collateral for loans.

13. In order to keep track of what they were inflating, Advance Resins kept three sets of books for the business. One book contained the fictitious sales and inventory records, a second contained the actual sales and inventory numbers (true numbers) and the third contained the differences between the actual and fictitious numbers.

14. Once they were forced to switch to a conventional lending agreement, Advance Resins could no longer sustain its operation, as they could not borrow off of sales and existing inventory.

15. Bruck directed employees to move worthless materials into the warehouse before the fire, and the insurance claim revealed the value of the contents had been inflated. In the days preceding the fire, Bruck filled building 3 with scrap plastic. Nearly 1/2 of the hangar was filled with this product. Additionally, he moved broken machinery, extruder's etc into building 3. Additionally, he set up a production line with recently purchased inoperable machinery in an effort to make it look like he was ready to start a production line. During an examination of the assembly line, it was determined that the machines lacked some of the necessary component parts to run the line.

16. Nearly 200 creditors and suppliers were interviewed; revealing that Advance Resins was heading for financial demise.

17. One of Bruck's employees was a welder. In the previous year, the welder was working in building one and accidentally ignited ABS powder, which is used in the manufacturing process. The fire was immediately extinguished.

18. During the week preceding the fire, Bruck called several professional welding firms and asked them to work in building 3 on a Saturday evening. He eventually hired one firm, despite the fact that they were charging him a higher rate than they charge during daylight hours.

19. When the welders arrived, Bruck told them they had to weld several steel brackets for his production machine. They suggested he just bolt them together however Bruck said they had to be welded. As the welders began to work, they asked Bruck why there was 6-8 inches of white powder on the floor in the warehouse. Bruck told them it was not flammable and not to worry about it. As the welders worked, the sparks ignited a small fire on the powder. The welders extinguished it and checked the area several times. As they were working, the welder dropped a flashlight in the powder. Mark Bruck then told the welders they had to leave and come back the next day.

20. As the welders were leaving, Bruck remained in the warehouse alone for several minutes and asked them to follow him out of the complex. He told them to remove all of their tools. The welders objected saying they would be back in the morning. Bruck made them remove their tools.

21. Approximately three hours after Bruck and the welders left building 3, a security guard saw flames venting through the roof of building 3 (aircraft hangar).

22. When the NRT member interviewed the welders, they conveyed their story. Their flashlight was taken as evidence and the ATF laboratory confirmed that the white powder on the flashlight (that was dropped) was ABS powder, which is flammable.

Numerous search warrants were executed in this case. Grand Jury subpoenas were provided to numerous businesses and people.

F. LEGAL ISSUES AND PROBLEMS:

Interviews of numerous employees revealed that five of them were also involved in the scheme. All cooperated; two were granted immunity and testified against Bruck.

The unindicted coconspirators followed Bruck's orders and did not gain from the scheme.

G. VERDICT AND SENTENCING:

On September 28, 1995, Mark Bruck's wife, Karen Bruck, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. On December 28, 1995, she was sentenced to 24 months' probation.

On December 15, 1995, Mark Bruck was found guilty of seven counts--arson, use of fire to commit a felony, wire fraud, conspiracy, bank fraud, and aiding and abetting. Bruck was concurrently sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment for arson, mail fraud, and wire fraud; he was also consecutively sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment for use of fire to commit a felony, for a total of 138 months' incarceration.

 
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