4-year Jail Sentence For Business Owner Burning A Building With Intent To Defraud An Insurer

On Wednesday, August 3, Robert Cole, 54, of Salisbury, the former owner of Ideal Transmission on Franklin Street. in Salem, received a four-year sentence in state prison after a jury convicted him of burning a building with the intent to defraud an insurer and arson.

A major fire that could have spread caused $500 thousand in damages

The September 6, 2017, fire that Mr. Cole was convicted of setting caused $500 thousand of property damage to the building that housed Ideal Transmission.

Controlling the fire took firefighters more than three hours. At one point, the firefighters had to evacuate the building before its roof and the second floor collapsed. Also, the intensity of the fire created a risk the flames could have spread to nearby structures in the densely packed neighborhood of homes and businesses.

The motive for the arson was to get an insurance payout

The alleged motive the prosecution claimed for the arson was that Mr. Cole was $29,000 in arrears to his landlord, Goldberg Properties, and about to be evicted. His insurance was about to lapse. The Prosecutor, Anne Marie Gochis, convinced jurors that Mr. Cole set the fire planning plan to collect on his insurance policy before it was canceled.

Mr. Cole was not indicted by a grand jury until after a months-long investigation,  

Violation of the insurance fraud statute

One of the charges lodged against Mr. Cole was a violation of G.L. c. 266, § 10, “Insured property; burning with intent to defraud.” This statute provided for up to a five-year sentence in state prison, stating:

Whoever, wilfully and with intent to defraud or injure the insurer, sets fire to or attempts to set fire to, or whoever causes to be burned, or whoever aids, counsels or procures the burning of a building, or any goods, wares, merchandise or other chattels, belonging to himself or another, and which are at the time insured against loss or damage by fire, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years.

Request for lesser sentence denied by the judge

Mr. Cole’s lawyer had requested a sentence under the Massachusetts sentencing guidelines that would have given Mr. Cole, based on the charges and his record, a sentence between three and thirty months in jail.

Judge Kathleen McCarthy Neyman, however, admonished Mr. Cole in sentencing him to a four-year sentence stating, “It was a significant fire” that “put many citizens at risk of serious physical injury.”

The prosecutor, Anne Marie Gochis, based on the severity of the fire, requested a five- to a seven-year state prison sentence under the arson statute. She argued that Mr. Cole’s actions had put at risk firefighters and his neighbors solely to get money from an insurance company.

After Mr. Cole serves his four-year prison term for burning the Ideal Transmission building, he must complete two additional years on supervised probation for the attempted insurance fraud.

The conditions of this probation include a mental health evaluation and treatment and an order that Mr. Cole stays away from the location of the fire and the owners of the property.

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