Foreclosure, Financial Woes Apparently Fueling Homeowner Arson

Americans in financial bind reputedly torch their own homes for insurance money.

ByABC News via logo
December 1, 2009, 12:11 PM

Dec. 2, 2009 — -- Earlier this year, "Good Morning America" told you about people who were burning their cars for insurance money.

Now we report on another trend: desperate homeowners accused of burning their own homes to collect insurance money or avoid foreclosure.

Earlier this year, Michael Marin of Arizona was arrested for allegedly torching his own multi-million dollar mansion.

"He had a large balloon payment that was due. According to his assets, he was not able to make that payment," said Phoenix Fire Captain Jeff Peabody.

Marin categorically denied the allegation.

"I had nothing to do with this fire starting," Marin said. "I have a conscience as clear as the driven snow."

Marin told "GMA" he believes poor electrical wiring started the fire. He's currently out on bond with a February trial date.

The headlines go on and on, in every corner of the country, broke homeowners have apparently been turning to arson, which has resulted in arrests, indictments and jail time.

Sheryl Christman of Michigan was sentenced to five years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service for igniting her home when it was four days away from foreclosure.

"It didn't look like a typical fire," one witness to the fire said. "It didn't look like something that something caught -- it almost looked ignited."

Police charged the owner of a Maryland home with setting his house on fire after he allegedly fell behind on his mortgage payments. The homeowner maintains his innocence and plans to enter a not-guilty plea.

Arson-related insurance fraud in Detroit soared 40 percent between 2005 and 2008. Just last month, a coalition of insurance companies pledged $1 million to attack the problem.

"It's way beyond just a financial problem," State Farm claim consultant Dennis Schulkins said. "You're putting firefighters at risk. You're putting innocent bystanders at risk."