One man pleaded guilty Tuesday to setting fire to a fledgling marijuana business in Spokane Valley last fall in what investigators are calling an insurance scam attempt.
Pavel Shevchenko, 25, signed a plea agreement in U.S. District Court on Tuesday in Spokane recommending a four-and-a-half year prison sentence for his involvement in the blaze that scorched two units of a strip mall at 9827 E. Sprague Ave. on Sept. 27. Shevchenko was performing unlicensed electrician work at the address for Burk A. Thomas, a Coeur d’Alene contractor who was working with a medical marijuana company called Green Society Group out of Western Washington, according to court records.
Shevchenko initially denied setting the fire, but his fingerprints were found on campfire canisters that investigators believe were used to accelerate the fire. The 25-year-old later told investigators he set the fire at the direction of Thomas so the contractor could recoup insurance money. Shevchenko owed Thomas $26,000 for construction work that wasn’t completed after he gambled the cash away at Northern Quest Casino, according to court documents.
Shevchenko will remain in custody of the Spokane County Jail ahead of his sentencing, which is scheduled for October.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is set for trial in November. He is contesting the federal government’s seizure of guns and ammunition from his home and chiropractic practice in Coeur d’Alene during the investigation of the fire.
In addition to the charges stemming from the fire, Thomas faces charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance after authorities discovered hash oil, a marijuana concentrate, at his home in Spokane Valley, according to court records. Thomas also possesses a Washington state medical marijuana card, according to investigators.
Investigators say Thomas upped the insurance policy on the Sprague Avenue strip mall from $2,500 to $30,000 in coverage just days before the fire.
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