Woman enters plea in arson case
By Suevon Lee
Published: Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 4:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 4:41 p.m.
A Canton, Ga. resident slapped with federal charges for allegedly soliciting another person to burn down her insured rental home in Ocala, pleaded guilty Thursday to mail fraud.
The count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and a term of supervised release of three years.
As part of the plea bargain, federal prosecutors dropped an additional count against the defendant, Susan E. Washington, of solicitation of another person to commit a crime of violence. They recommended that she receive a downward adjustment in sentencing for accepting responsibility.
At the federal courthouse in Ocala, Washington, 52, stood beside her attorney, Ronald Chapman, as she formally entered her guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Jones.
Washington admitted to plotting to collect $100,000 in insurance proceeds by enlisting her handyman to torch the Ocala home, located at 365 N.E. 70th Terrace. He was reportedly offered $5,000 to commit the act. The plot was foiled, however, when the handyman went to the Ocala Police Department with the information early this year.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the State of Florida Fire Marshal’s Office, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Ocala Police combined forces to investigate.
In March, a federal grand jury in Tampa indicated Washington on two criminal counts.
The handyman, as a cooperating witness, taped phone conversations he had with Washington from Jan. 2, 2009 to Feb. 1, 2009, in which they discussed burning the rental home.
According to prosecutors, Washington told the handyman in a Jan. 20 call, “Go and get it done and if you can call me from a pay phone from now on, cuz I’m not going to ring your number after this goes down, because I don’t want them to think that I’m talking to you after it’s been done because that might raise suspicion.”
When the witness asked Washington to send him $50 for supplies needed to carry out the arson, she sent him a check through the U.S. Mail.
Ten days later, Washington grew impatient, urging the man in a follow-up conversation to “just hurry up and let’s get this…done” because she was “starting to need the money really bad.”
Washington believed she would receive $177,000 from Southern Fidelity Insurance Company. When the witness corrected her during a taped conversation, saying she would receive $100,000, Washington responded, “It just seems too good to be true.”
“Is that what you indeed did in this case?” Jones asked the defendant after Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Armstrong read the statement of facts.
“Yes, your honor,” the mother of four responded.
Chapman, the defense attorney, ordered a competency examination for his client, the findings of which were disclosed in court Thursday. Although the report concluded Washington was competent to stand trial, the defendant acknowledged to the judge that she has been taking anti-depressants and other mood-stabilizing drugs since her mid-20s.
That disclosure could factor in during her sentencing, expected in the next 75 days following the conclusion of a pre-sentencing report.
Washington will be allowed to remain free on bond until her sentencing hearing.
Contact Suevon Lee at 867-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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