PITTSBURGH – A resident of Johnstown, PA pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of Malicious Destruction of Property by Fire, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.
Mark A. Hutchison, age 34, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge Kim R. Gibson.
In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that on December 12, 2018 Mark Hutchinson intentionally set a fire that destroyed a large commercial building located at 151-161 Fairfield Avenue in Johnstown. The building had recently been purchased by a limited liability corporation based in New York known as “JoJe.” The seller was a company known as “Citrona,” which had an office in Johnstown but was based in Florida. The contract of sale set the price at $200,000 for the building, plus $275,000 more to cover renovations to be undertaken by Citrona. The renovations were underway as of the time of the fire. The building was being renovated to permit the operation of a laundromat at street level and rental apartments upstairs. The insurance claim made by JoJe as a result of the fire was for $1.2 million.
ATF’s investigation of the scene resulted in a determination that the fire originated in the middle section of the left side of the building at street level. Nearby businesses had surveillance cameras in place at the time of the fire. One of the cameras captured a person near the left side door of the building that burned. That person can be seen carrying some type of light, walking away from the building, at approximately 4:45 a.m., which was approximately 15 minutes prior to the fire being reported by a passerby. Other cameras led the agents to identify a truck, owned by Citrona, leaving the nearby premises shortly after the person with the light walked away from the building. Follow up investigation revealed that Mark Hutchison, who was one of the workers renovating the building, had the truck that night.
The agents interviewed Hutchison, who admitted that he had set the fire, and admitted that he was the person caught on video with the light. It was the light from his cell phone. He explained that he had purchased kerosene from a nearby Sheetz a couple days prior to the fire and that he had poured and ignited that kerosene inside the building. He then exited the side door, got in the Citrona truck and drove away.
Judge Gibson scheduled sentencing for February 11, 2021. The law provides for a total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant United States Attorney Shaun E. Sweeney is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Pennsylvania State Police and Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Mark A. Hutchison.