Spokane Valley Fire Department investigators have made an arrest for a fire in a vacant building on Nora Avenue last week as well as a fire that torched a vehicle in January.
This week a federal grand jury indicted Anthony W. Sotin, 42, on two counts of arson and one count of wire fraud. Sotin entered a plea of not guilty.
“Both fires were started using the same method,” said Bill Clifford, assistant fire marshal. A hand-held torch was used to start the fires and in each case it was left behind by the arsonist.
The car fire was reported at an apartment complex near Sullivan Road and Third Avenue on Jan. 12. The car belonged to Sotin and interviews with witnesses led investigators to believe that Sotin set the fire himself, Clifford said.
“It was his car, and he was having work done,” Clifford said. After it was torched, he made an insurance claim. That insurance claim led to the wire fraud charge.
The fire at 13412 E. Nora Ave. was reported in the early morning hours of Feb. 9. When investigators discovered a torch that had been used to start the fire, they immediately recognized the similarity with the car fire.
Initial estimates put the damage to the building at $40,000, but further inspection bumped that up to $140,000, Clifford said.
Investigators do not know why Sotin allegedly burned the building. “We don’t know what the connection was on the vacant building,” Clifford said. “Maybe this might come out before the next hearing.”
Fire Marshal Kevin Miller said the decision was made to charge Sotin in federal court partly because the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives helped in the investigation. The insurance claim aspect of the case also involves interstate commerce.
Sotin would face a longer prison term if he is convicted in federal court, Miller said. “The federal penalties are quite a bit larger,” he said. If convicted, Sotin could be sentenced to 20 years just for the wire fraud charge, plus 10 years for the car arson and between five and 20 years for the building arson.
Spokane County Superior Court records show that Sotin has an extensive criminal history dating back to 1988. His previous convictions include assault, harassment, second-degree malicious mischief and arson. “I believe he has 12 felony convictions,” Clifford said.
A Spokane Valley Herald story on Sotin’s 1988 conviction for arson reported that he was a suspect in several other fires but those charges were dismissed in an agreement to have him plead guilty to second-degree arson for setting fire to a PayLess Drug Store in Spokane Valley.