EVERETT — Lost in the fire were two motorcycle helmets, two outboard motors, three life preservers, three pistols, scuba gear, a rain suit, remote controlled cars, an electric bike, a $4,000 GPS device, a 36-inch TV, a dinghy, ceramics from “Porchigal” and much more.
Or at least that’s what the boat owner, 61, told his insurance company.
The fire at the Everett marina scorched the man’s 36-foot fiberglass pleasure craft, M/V Discovery, as well as five boathouses on Oct. 8, 2018.
Aside from toilet paper, women’s clothing and the $40,000 vessel itself, investigators determined the flames consumed almost no possessions aboard the boat. Some of the man’s “burned” valuables had been pawned or sold on OfferUp — before the fire, according to charging papers.
The Everett man pleaded guilty this week to a felony for the fraud. Superior Court Judge Paul Thompson sentenced him to two months under house arrest, as suggested by a plea deal.
City authorities never determined the official origin of the fire.
Early on, police received a tip that the man may have set it on purpose for insurance reasons. Ongoing civil claims filed in U.S. District Court allege it was actually caused by negligence.
A man who owned a boat at a neighboring slip worked in the HVAC industry. He claimed the Discovery owner had a diesel furnace mounted to the boat, and it often spewed smelly black smoke for months.
In neighborly conversations, he “acknowledged the problem and often replied that he would address the maintenance and repair issues but I observed no maintenance or repairs took place,” wrote the neighbor in a sworn declaration filed earlier this year at the federal court in Seattle.
Three other boat owners are now seeking $46,000 in damages for property that was destroyed as the flames spread.
About a week after the fire, the owner of the Discovery submitted his own claim to a Geico-owned marine insurer saying 31 items burned, for a total property loss of $17,625.
The suspicious claims were passed along to Everett police detective Danny Rabelos. The owner met with the detective in December 2018, and the man quickly “corrected” the list to subtract $2,500 in valuables that he claimed were listed in error, the charges say.
Rabelos consulted with a fire investigator, and learned some of the remaining items — such as a .45-caliber Colt Peacemaker, a .45-caliber Springfield pistol, a 9 mm Smith & Wesson, and the RadMini electric bike — hadn’t been damaged, because there was no evidence they had ever been on the boat. There wasn’t much on board at all, according to the investigator.
Prosecutors charged the man in September with one count of insurance fraud. He pleaded guilty Tuesday to making a false claim of proof in excess of $1,500. He addressed the judge in Snohomish County Superior Court.
“Basically, I made a mistake when I filled out the list, thinking — I was just kind of in shock at the time,” he said.
His attorney, Phil Weinberg, said none of the insurance money ever got paid out to his client.
“In the process of doing this stupid thing, my client was not compensated for the fire in which he lost a $40,000 boat, and his home,” Weinberg said. “He’s very sorry about it.”
The defendant had no criminal record. He preemptively filed a request in federal court in April 2019, seeking to be freed of civil liability for the damage, on the grounds that the fire was not caused by “any fault or negligence on the part of the Plaintiff.”
In October, two neighboring boat owners’ motion for summary judgment — which would have resolved their civil claims with no trial — was denied by District Court Judge James Robart.
So the federal case is still pending.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.