DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announced that Michael Marte, age 55, of Denver, was sentenced today to serve 120 months (10 years) in federal prison followed by 3 years of supervised release for arson in connection with the fire at 1920 and 1930 Grove Street. He was also ordered to pay $2,894,443 in restitution to the victims of his crime. Marte appeared at the hearing in custody. He was remanded at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing. The Denver Division of the ATF and the Denver Fire Department joined in the announcement.
According to the stipulated facts contained in Marte’s plea agreement, starting in approximately May of 2017, the defendant was hired by an Australian real estate developer to oversee a substantial construction project in West Denver. The developer had purchased two residential lots for redevelopment on Grove Street. The project consisted of scrapping two single home residences and replacing them with two separate multi-unit buildings on each lot. Each building contained seven townhomes. Marte was paid an annual salary of $200,000 to supervise the construction. The project continued into early 2018, when both buildings were in the final phase, complete with roofing, siding, doors and windows. Interior finishing touches were still needed.
On May 10, 2018, the victim developer travelled to Denver from Australia for purposes of meeting with the defendant and inspecting the progress of the project. However, around 2:00 a.m. on May 10, 2018, while the developer was still on a plane to Denver, both buildings became engulfed in a fire which caused total destruction of both units. The loss was estimated at $4 million. The Denver Fire Department characterized the fire as a “three-alarm blaze” meaning it required approximately half of Denver’s Fire Department to extinguish it. They fought the fire for approximately 8 hours.
Denver Fire Investigators and ATF agents quickly suspected arson. One key piece of evidence was surveillance from a video doorbell camera, which was provided by a nearby resident. It showed a vehicle identical to the defendant’s driving into the area shortly before the blaze began. It also showed large billows of smoke and flames rising from the buildings. Another surveillance video showed a man of Marte’s description quickly walking away after the fire started. Investigators found clothes that had fire accelerant on them that were matched to the defendant through DNA.
The investigation also uncovered that during the construction the defendant purchased a $4 million insurance policy on the property with himself names as the beneficiary. Shortly after the fire he quickly attempted to obtain the insurance money. Those attempts failed.
“Mr. Marte thought he could steal $4,000,000 by igniting a fire that destroyed someone else’s property and put lives at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn. “But arson is a serious crime that has serious criminal consequences, as Mr. Marte has now discovered the hard way.”
“The collaborative effort between ATF, the Denver Fire Department and the United States Attorney’s Office lead to today’s sentence for Mr. Marte,” said Acting Denver ATF Special Agent in Charge Bradley Engelbert. “ATF will always work to bring violent criminals to justice and are proud of our partnerships across law enforcement and fire services. We are thankful that no firefighters were injured by Mr. Marte’s actions.”
“This very important accomplishment would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of numerous people,” said Fire Chief Todd Bower. “I would personally like to thank the members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Department of Justice who all have worked in a collaborative partnership with the Fire Investigators from the Denver Fire Department to secure this conviction.”
The sentence was pronounced by U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martinez. Marte was charged by indictment on January 6, 2018, and pleaded guilty on November 25, 2019. This case was investigated by the Denver Division of the ATF and the Denver Fire Department. The defendant was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Neff.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. Related court documents can be found on PACER by searching for Case Number 18-cr-00573.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.