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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


Skyview Casino
Williamstown, VT
April 21, 1993


A. IN: 63230-93-3020 D

B. CASE AGENT: Joseph S. Harrington

C. FIELD DIVISION/OFFICE: Boston Field Division, Burlington Field Office

D. PHONE: 802-951-6593

E. PROSECUTOR:

Paul Van de Graaf
Assistant United States Attorney
District of Vermont

F. SYNOPSIS: On April 21, 1993, an arson fire destroyed the Skyview Casino, a privately-owned dance hall in Williamstown, Vermont. A preliminary investigation by the Vermont State Police identified the owners of record for the building, Ronald A. McCoy and Rene L. Crete, as possible suspects in the arson. James M. Stacy was also identified as the "torch" hired by the owners to start the fire. Total loss to the insurance company was $135,000.

ATF originally became involved in the investigation in May 1993 for the sole purpose of assisting the Vermont State Police with processing and identifying evidence pursuant to an agreement between the ATF National Laboratory and the Vermont State Police Crime Laboratory.

In October 1995, AUSA Paul Van de Graaf requested that ATF provide additional investigative assistance to the Vermont State Police in this investigation. In the new investigation, numerous witnesses were interviewed and reinterviewed, and an additional suspect was developed.

G. CHARGES:

United States Code

Title 18, Section 844(i), Arson
Title 18, Section 1623, False Declaration to a Grand Jury
Title 21, Section 841(a)(1), Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance
Title 21, Section 844(e), Wire Fraud

H. EVIDENCE:

1. The Skyview Casino burned to the ground on April 21, 1993. Although evidence samples submitted to the ATF Laboratory did not test positive for an accelerant, an ATF certified fire investigator, a Vermont State Police fire investigator, and an independent origin and cause expert hired by the insurance company each concluded that the fire had been intentionally set with the aid of an accelerant.

2. Ronald McCoy and Rene Crete had owned the Skyview Casino for several years prior to the fire. The Casino operated as a local nightclub, to which customers had to bring their own alcohol. It was open only one or two nights a week and for special functions. Just prior to the fire, the Casino started featuring nude dancers, a practice which met with substantial opposition from the Williamstown community.

3. The nude dancers had performed the night of the fire. Because of the opposition in town and the fact that the insurance coverage was only about $20,000 more than the mortgage owed, the owners were not initially considered to be strong suspects. However, the casino was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. As a result of town meetings in April 1993, the owners were going to be forced to close unless they could find a law enforcement officer willing to work there when the Casino was open.

4. After the fire, McCoy and Crete made no serious attempt to rebuild but instead sold the land for about $35,000. Thus, although the insurance claim did not yield a high profit, the fire allowed the owners to get rid of the building and then sell the land for a profit.

5. In June 1993, McCoy and Crete took and passed polygraph examinations.

6. The break in the case came in July 1993, when Mark Parker was arrested for outstanding motor vehicle violations. In exchange for having his tickets taken care of, Parker told police he would provide information on the Skyview Casino arson.

7. Parker told police that on April 20, 1993, he received a telephone call from his friend, James Stacy. Stacy, who was working as a bouncer at the Casino, asked Parker to meet him there. When he arrived, Stacy gave Parker $400 and asked him to burn down the Casino that night. Parker said that Stacy told him the owners wanted the job done on a night that the topless dancers would have performed. When Parker questioned Stacy as to why the owners wanted the Casino burned, Stacy said that they weren't making a lot of money and the place was becoming a hassle. Parker accepted and went home.

8. When he got home, Parker told his girlfriend of the plan. She told Parker that she would leave him if he carried it out, and that he would have to return the money. Parker then drove back to the Casino and returned the money, even though Stacy offered him another $100. Stacy told Parker that McCoy and Crete wanted the fire to look like arson and that they wanted the whole building gone. He asked for advice on how to start it, and Parker suggested using 5 gallons of fuel on the floor.

9. Parker agreed to meet with Stacy and wear a recording device. In recorded conversations on July 12 and 13, Parker told Stacy that he had been questioned about the fire, and he asked for advice on whether he should take a polygraph. Stacy urged Parker to lie to police, reassuring him that he could honestly answer several questions about it and implying personal knowledge that Parker was not responsible for setting the fire.

10. After being confronted with the Parker tapes, Stacy agreed to cooperate with the State's investigation in exchange for immunity. However, the State gave Stacy an immunity deal without Stacy having seen a lawyer. Stacy made a statement and agreed to an undercover meeting with McCoy, who at the time was allegedly supplying Stacy with marijuana. During an undercover meeting with McCoy that same night, McCoy because suspicious, and Stacy subsequently stopped checking in with police every day. Without telling Stacy, police arrested McCoy and Crete on July 26, and Stacy fled to Florida.

11. The State had no case without Stacy. Stacy was arrested on arson charges but refused to continue to cooperate. The State dropped the charges against McCoy and Crete, and pressed its case against Stacy, arguing that Stacy no longer had immunity because he had violated the agreement by refusing to check in and by fleeing. Stacy challenged the admission of his statements and argued that the immunity deal still applied. He claimed that the State police had promised to tell him when they planned to arrest McCoy and Crete because he was afraid of repercussions when they learned of his cooperation. The State court accepted Stacy's argument and supressed all of his statements because he had not been given Miranda warnings. At that point, the State requested ATF's assistance.

12. The U.S. Attorney's office agreed to prosecute the arson, but had to grant Stacy immunity because of the Miranda issue.

13. A long-time friend of Stacy's testified that on the night of the fire, Stacy asked her for a ride. She drove Stacy to a Cumberland Farms (store) in Barre, where Stacy bought a gallon of water, emptied it, and filled the container with gasoline. Stacy then told the driver to return to the road to the Casino. While she waited in the car with the lights out, Stacy got out with the gasoline and headed up the road. When he returned, the gas container was empty. Stacy later bragged to her that he had burned the Casino in exchange for money paid by the owners, and that he and the owners had beat the polygraph.

14. Following Stacy's sworn testimony, Ronald McCoy and Rene Crete pled guilty as charged.

15. James Bernasconi, who was developed as a key witness in this investigation, falsely testified to the Federal Grand Jury. He was indicted and subsequently pled guilty to a false declaration charge.

I. LEGAL ISSUES AND PROBLEMS: As stated in the above narrative.

J. VERDICT AND SENTENCING:

Ronald McCoy pled guilty to Federal charges of Arson and Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance. He was sentenced to a concurrent sentence of 27 months' imprisonment followed by 3 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $5,000 to the insurance company.

Rene Crete pled guilty to a Federal charge of Wire Fraud. He was sentenced to 9 months' incarceration and 3 years' supervised release, and ordered to pay $10,000 to the insurance company.

James Bernasconi pled guilty to making a False Declaration to a Grand Jury. He was sentenced to 6 months' incarceration and 2 years' supervised release.

 
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