Two people accused of purposely setting fire to their foreclosed home to collect insurance money on it in 2010 were bound over to District Court this week after a justice of the peace found there was enough evidence to support the charges against them.
Anthony Greco, a former candidate for town board, and Kathie Rinaldi appeared in Pahrump Justice Court Wednesday morning for a preliminary hearing on charges of first degree arson, burning of property with intent to defraud insured and false insurance claim for benefit stemming from a suspicious August 18, 2010 fire that damaged a home at 5920 S. Pahrump Valley Blvd.
The case is being handled by the Nevada Attorney General’s office after a potential conflict of interest surfaced between Greco and the Nye County District Attorney’s office earlier this year.
Rinaldi and Greco were charged in November 2011 with orchestrating the fire after an investigation into the incident by the State Fire Marshal’s office revealed the blaze had likely been set intentionally.
Greco allegedly told Nye County Sheriff’s deputies on Aug. 19, 2010 when they responded to the address for a report of a burglary that it appeared someone had broken into the home, which he and Rinaldi said they were in the process of remodeling, and set fire to it.
The defendant reportedly told officers he had been at the home the day before working and everything appeared to be in order. He added that although the home had been burnt, it did not appear that any items had been taken.
The home, which had reportedly gone into foreclosure prior to the fire, was insured through Allstate for $191,000, excluding the contents, according to an investigative report in the case. Rinaldi, who actually owned the home, had approximately $175,000 left to pay on the mortgage. Had the house been destroyed in the fire, that report noted Rinaldi and Greco could have stood to collect up to $20,000 from the insurance.
Rinaldi reportedly filed for bankruptcy several months prior to the fire, but her claim was denied in July 2010 due to delinquent plan payments, failure to file a plan in good faith and failure to cooperate with the bankruptcy trustee. It was also reported at the hearing the woman had more than $50,000 in credit card debt in 2010 and that between October 2009 and the day of the fire, only one mortgage payment had been made to her lender, Bank of America, on the house.
Fire Marshal Investigator Michael Kolpak testified at Wednesday’s hearing. He said the couple’s financial troubles along with what appeared to be a staged fire led him to conclude the fire was a criminal matter.
During his investigation, Kolpak said several things caught his eye, including a large hole cut in the ceiling just above where the fire started in the floor boards of a laundry room. Ten feet from the hole was the normal attic opening, but it was missing its cover. Also, ceiling fans were left on inside the home when it caught fire. So too were the home’s central air conditioner and two electric fans, which were found set up in the garage. Kolpak told the court he believed the fans were left on and strategically placed to circulate air throughout the house in order to spread the fire quickly and engulf the entire home. Two doors leading from the garage, one to the home’s interior and another to the backyard of the residence, were pried loose and propped open as well. Had a water line not melted during the early stages of the fire’s spread, extinguishing the flames, Kolpak said the house would have been a total loss.
Additionally, a highly flammable bottle of mineral spirits, an oil-based paint thinner, was found lying on its side in the home’s hallway, near where the fire started.
“What was most important to me were two fans that were on (in the garage) at the time of the fire. One was a floor fan that was located right at the point where the back white door is. Both of them were on at the time of the fire based on the sooting. So it was obvious the fans were on and pulling air from inside the house. That was important to me because it was an indication the house had been staged for arson,” Kolpak said.
When Greco’s attorney Michael Printy asked the investigator if the fans in the garage possibly could have been used to pull cool air from the house to the area where Greco’s mother was reportedly going to have a garage sale later that month, the investigator said it was possible but unlikely unless the air-conditioning was left running in the empty home. Only the central unit’s air recycler was left on, not the AC.
Greco and Rinaldi’s possible involvement in the fire became further suspect, Kolpak said, after they allegedly gave conflicting statements about their financial situation to both he and Lynn Brannon, an Allstate Insurance claims adjuster and fraud investigator.
“Just in conversation, I got to ask Mr. Greco about his employment, what he did. He told me that he was a bodyguard. I asked him who he worked for and he said that he protected himself. He seemed a little taken aback by that question,” Kolpak told the court.
Rinaldi allegedly told the insurance company that they had lived in the master bedroom of the rundown home for several months before moving out to renovate it, but allegedly told Kolpak they had never really lived there.
Kolpak said another suspicion was the supposed remodeling efforts. A nagging question: Why remodel a home in foreclosure?
Additionally Rinaldi allegedly told Kolpak she was current except for one missed payment on her mortgage, which he learned later was not the case.
“I learned that they hadn’t made a mortgage payment since October, that the house was in a state of foreclosure, that Ms. Rinaldi had filed for bankruptcy and that Mr. Greco had arranged for the insurance to cover that house. That he basically controlled everything, she had given him power of attorney over her finances…One of the things that’s important is after I spoke with Ms. Rinaldi, I spoke to Mr. Greco outside of the building and I asked Mr. Greco how he planned to pay for the renovations to the house and he said with the sales of his book,” he added.
Greco self-published a memoir about his experiences after being arrested by the FBI several years ago. He was accused of involvement in a gangland slaying on the East Coast but never prosecuted. The fact the book has only sold a few copies on Amazon was a bone of contention during the hearing.
Brannon testified when he asked Rinaldi if she sold the home in the state it was in before the fire if she could have made the same amount she bought it for, she replied they could not.
Despite testimony from several witnesses about the defendants’ motive to commit arson, both Greco’s attorney Michael Printy and Rinaldi’s attorney Tony Abbatangelo argued all three counts of the criminal complaint should be dropped.
Abbatangelo explained Rinaldi and Greco had a legitimate right to file a claim with their insurance company over the fire. He said there was no evidence his client had anything to do with starting the fire.
“They were honest, they cooperated, they told the investigator that we intend to file a claim, they were going back and forth to the place every day while they were remodeling, they thought they had a claim. They didn’t say, we’re not going to claim, or we’re going to file today. They said they were going to file a claim and they did,” he said.
Printy added although there appeared to be motive for his client and Rinaldi to possibly commit arson, there was no evidence presented during the hearing directly tying either defendant to the act.
“As far as count one, again there’s no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Greco had anything to do with starting the fire. There was testimony that there might be motive, possibly, but certainly no evidence whatsoever to suggest he started that fire or had anything to do with it other than the motive. But like I said that’s not evidence to support any probable cause for intent to commit arson,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Kovac, however, said it was clear there was motive for the two defendants to burn the house down for the insurance money and evidence they were responsible for the act.
“First of all, as far as the state is concerned, the evidence has shown the defendants had a financial motive. Back in 2008, Ms. Rinaldi was making over $100,000, late 2009 she took a job back here in Pahrump that cost her $40,000 per year. She filed for bankruptcy before the fire occurred, she filed after it occurred, she had substantial credit card debt,” he said. “There was only a single payment made on that loan. Several months prior to the fire the defendants knew they were likely to lose the home. Ms. Rinaldi had told her mother, sister that she was going to possibly surrender the home. That’s important because there was certain misrepresentations made. Like Mr. Brannon testified, in order for the home to be covered, the home had to either be occupied or undergoing renovations at the time of the fire.
“Now the defendants have taken to contradictory positions. First, we hear the defendants are ready to give up the home like so many other people in Nevada, but at the same time are saying there were renovations that were being done. That just doesn’t make sense to have both those things happening at the same time. If they’re giving up the home, there aren’t renovations going on. If there are renovations going on, they aren’t giving up the home. The statements the defendant made about those renovations are false. The defendants didn’t have any means to continue paying,” the prosecutor said.
Ultimately, Judge Kent Jasperson ruled in favor of the state, explaining he believed based on the evidence presented at the hearing there was the slight or marginal evidence present in the case to bind the defendants over to the district court to answer to charges there.
Greco and Rinaldi are scheduled to appear in District Court on Dec. 30 for an arraignment.