CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — Two Clay Hill house fires were thought to be arson brought by hate crimes. Turns out, it was a scheme to hide the real reason - an attempt for the owner to get some extra cash in his pocket.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office reported the suspect set his own properties on fire.
Neighbors expressed concern surrounding the suspicious nature of the fires.
“I was stunned by it,” neighbor Lillie Pratt said.
Clay County detectives charged George Carneiro in connection with an arson case involving two homes – one on Sharon Lane and another on Conifer Circle. Back in March, Action News Jax told you how the fires were staged with false evidence of a hate crime – targeting Latinos.
“I was infuriated by it,” Pratt said.
But Clay County detectives say this was a ploy to hide the true motive behind the fires. Carneiro’s arrest report indicates a friend suggested he set his own home on fire for insurance money.
“I think it was kind of dumb of him really,” Pratt said. “I mean when you think about it, he didn’t plan it out very well.”
Key evidence reveals a video of Carneiro’s employees buying fuel tanks with cash at a Walmart. This video, along with bank records and the employee’s statement led to Carneiro’s arrest.
The arrest report adds Carneiro bought the homes last summer as investment properties. His first payments were due last November. But he never paid. Five months later, he was $40,000 in debt.
“It definitely sounds like he was hoping the insurance would take care of the debt, but they have ways to find out about arson,” Jacksonville realtor Tracy Collins said.
Collins says your mortgage payment doesn’t go away after a disaster. She adds, there are legal ways to pay for your home if you’re struggling.
“He could have turned them into Airbnb’s,” Collins said. “He could have rented them out he could’ve found another investor. It would have benefited him more to have the repossession done.”
Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook said in a statement, “I have zero tolerance for anyone who comes into our community and uses hate as a cover for their own schemes.”
Carneiro now faces charges of burning to defraud the insurer and false and fraudulent insurance claims related to arson.
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