Georgia man agrees to plead guilty to arson, fraud in Gardendale First Baptist fires

| July 31, 2010

A 46-year-old Georgia man today agreed to plead guilty to mail fraud and arson after two fires damaged Gardendale First Baptist Church in April, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

Donny Ray Horton of Hoschton, Ga. was charged in connection in fires set on April 3 and April 30.

According to the plea agreement, Horton took $78,769 from the church as a deposit for seating in the sanctuary it was building. Horton twice set fire to the building to delay installation of the 2,600 seats he never ordered.

"Crimes of this nature will not be tolerated in this district, and the best way to prevent or prosecute crime is to have federal, state and local law enforcement working together, as was done in this case," Vance said.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Secret Service, the Gardendale Police Department, and the Alabama State Fire Marshal.

"Anytime a house of worship is attacked, it is taken very seriously. The potential for a firefighter, police officer or church member to be injured, or even killed, is always a possibility," ATF Special Agent in Charge Glenn Anderson said.

Horton was charged with mail fraud for falsely claiming to have placed the church's seating order with Ohio-based Sauder Manufacturing.

Because of that lie, the church mailed a deposit to Horton's home in Georgia.

To delay the installation of the seating, Horton set a fire on April 3 causing about $110,234 in damage. When the installation was rescheduled for April 30, Horton again set fire to the church sanctuary, causing about $118,270 in damage, according to the plea agreement.

The government seeks to have Horton forfeit the church's $78,769 deposit.

The plea agreement requires Horton to pay the following in restitution: $218,505 to the church's contractor or the contractor's insurer; $10,000 to Gardendale First Baptist Church for $5,000 insurance deductible payments for each fire; $2,536 to a flooring contractor and $81,199 to Sauder Manufacturing.

The arson charges carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years. Both the arson and the mail fraud charges carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

Peggy Sanford, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office, said Horton will officially enter the plea at a later date. Sentencing will follow that, she said.

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Category: Church Security

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