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Michigan arsonist who torched big rigs in High Desert, Inland Empire gets prison

In World
June 08, 2024

A federal judge sentenced a man to more than 10 years in prison Friday, June 7 for setting fire to six big rigs in the High Desert and Inland Empire, authorities said.

Viorel Pricop, 66, of Allen Park, Michigan, was convicted by a jury in March of six counts of arson of a vehicle involved in interstate commerce, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The crimes took place over 10 months between December of 2021 and September of 2022.

In addition to the six Southern California truck fires, investigators had also linked Pricop to 18 others across the U.S., all owned by Phoenix-based Swift Transportation, dating back to June of 2020, DOJ spokesman Ciaran McEvoy said in a written statement.

Pricop set the fires as a form of revenge against the company after representatives caught him stealing from it in 2015, leading to a previous felony conviction and a 26-month term in prison, prosecutors said.

In many of the arsons, truck drivers were inside the big rigs as they were set ablaze, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Martine Estrada said.

“This defendant was given a second chance but chose to throw it away and go on a national campaign of revenge,” he said. “By setting fire to trailer after trailer with the drivers inside the trucks, he recklessly put people’s lives at risk. Violent recidivist criminals such as this defendant will only be deterred with consequences and the sentence imposed today does just that.”

In addition to issuing a 121-month prison sentence, U.S. Judge Sunshine Sykes also ordered Pricop to pay $648,384 in restitution during Friday’s hearing in federal court in Riverside.

The fires

The High Desert arsons took place in Hesperia, Barstow, Newberry Springs and Ludlow, officials said. The other two Southern California truck fires took place in the Coachella area.

“In each of the incidents, the Swift-owned trailer was parked at or near a truck stop when a fire occurred on the trailer portion of the vehicle, mainly on or near the trailer tires,” according to McEvoy. Most of the crimes took place along the 10 and 40 freeways.

Pricop also faces federal charges for fires in Arizona and New Mexico, officials said.

Investigators linked him to the fires through a navigation device installed on Pricop’s own truck, McEvoy said. The device was detected at the scene of many of the arsons. Cell phone data also linked him to multiple crime scenes.

Searched of Pricop’s home and vehicles in Septemeber of 2022 turned evidence of his involvement in the fires, officials said.

“This evidence included a gas torch, torch-style lighters, and record keeping documents containing location information, such as cargo pickup and delivery dates which coincided with the time and location of several fires in the series of 24 fires across the country,” McEvoy said.

A vendetta

Pricop’s criminal vendetta against the trucking company began just over a year after his period of supervised release stemming from his prior theft conviction ended, prosecutors added.

After being plagued by a series of thefts for years, Swift Transportation representatives set up “bait trailers,” which included boxes of electronic goods fitted with tracking devices in 2015, according to the DOJ.

Pricop stole some of the baited boxes, leading to his arrest and eventual conviction on charges of transportation of stolen goods and tax offenses, in 2018.

More: YouTube video of helicopter shooting fireworks at Lamborghini in El Mirage a federal case

The investigation was spearheaded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office.

“Thanks to the outstanding work by dedicated ATF agents, partners from the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office, and the United States Attorney’s Office from the Central District of California, a serial arsonist was held to justice,” srendan Iber, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Phoenix Field Office. “Our communities deserve to be safe from violent criminals and due to the tireless work by agents, investigators and prosecutors, community members can rest a little easier knowing that an arsonist is no longer setting fires.”

This article originally appeared on Victorville Daily Press: Michigan man who set big rigs on fire in California gets prison

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