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
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
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.
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
Title 21, Section 844(e), Wire Fraud
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
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