A Coeur d’Alene chiropractor and another man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to setting fire to a Spokane Valley strip mall after plans to open a pot business there fell through.
Pavel Shevchenko, 24, and Burk A. Thomas, 33, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of conspiracy to commit arson and malicious use of fire to damage property. Thomas additionally pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and use of fire to commit a federal felony, after investigators learned he sought additional insurance coverage for two strip mall suites at 9827 E. Sprague Ave. in the days before the Sept. 27 fire.
Shevchenko was jailed Nov. 10, and the complaint containing details of the investigation remains under seal in the federal courts. However, the indictment handed down by a grand jury Tuesday alleges Shevchenko set fire to the complex using campfire fuel he’d purchased at a nearby grocery store. A for-sale sign was on the property Wednesday afternoon, and though the doors were locked, scorched fiberglass insulation and broken drywall could be seen through the windows.
The state’s Liquor Control Board lists four pending licenses for a retail marijuana shop at the address, the last of which was filed Jan. 1.
Kevin Miller, a fire marshal with the Spokane Valley Fire Department, confirmed a potential marijuana-selling operation was in the works at the location. Shevchenko was remodeling the business at the time of the fire, according to a news release from the fire department. The blaze caused $500,000 in damage to the middle suites of the strip mall and its attic, the department said. No injuries were reported.
Federal investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted in the investigation.
Thomas, a Coeur d’Alene chiropractor, was a partial owner of the marijuana business, according to the indictment unsealed Wednesday. He had a five-year lease on the strip mall suites and decided to set the fire sometime around June “because he no longer wanted to continue developing the business,” according to a court document. Eight days before the fire, Thomas contacted his insurance company and changed the mailing address for his account from the East Sprague location to an office at 850 W. Ironwood Drive in Coeur d’Alene. That’s the business address of Avanti Health, a chiropractic practice near Kootenai Health.
Thomas also added $40,000 in insurance coverage to his policy when he changed the address, according to investigators, citing improvements to the site of the proposed pot shop.
Thomas originally was licensed in Colorado and set up his Coeur d’Alene practice three years ago, according to state business records. He was jailed late Tuesday and remained in the Spokane County Jail on Wednesday night pending a bail hearing tentatively scheduled for next week.
Shevchenko faces a potential sentence of up to 20 years for both of the charges against him. He was released from custody earlier this week. Thomas could spend twice that amount of time in prison, with a mandatory 10-year sentence if it is determined he is guilty of using fire to commit a federal felony.
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