Another case of a phony hate crime sprang up in Florida recently as a property owner apparently staged a pair of house fires to appear to be anti-Hispanic.
WTLV-TV reported handwritten signs found that showed racist opposition to Latino neighbors. A nearby resident told WJAX-TV that one sign read, “This is our land…Latinos are not welcome.”
According to the Miami Herald, authorities are pressing multiple charges against the owner over setting the fires and filing false reports. The Clay Hill neighborhood where the fires were allegedly set is about 35 miles southwest of Jacksonville.
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Investigators charge that George Carneiro staged the fake arson on March 13 at two of his newly built projects. The Herald said the suspect fell behind on his payments and was scheming to get out of financial difficulty.
The sheriff’s office conducted an investigation which led to the discovery of a video from the day before the fire. It allegedly showed one of Carneiro’s employees buying fuel tanks with cash at a local Walmart.
The Herald quoted the sheriff’s office as asserting “this video evidence was key in establishing a connection between Carneiro and the arson. Carneiro owned the homes that were burned, and bank records revealed that he was significantly behind on his payments.”
Officials said both residences suffered “substantial property damage.”
Law enforcement believes that false evidence of a hate crime was planted to lead investigators astray from the “true motive.”
Officials obtained a warrant to track Carneiro’s location during the fires, and evidence led to the charges. Specifically, they are “burning to defraud the insurer and false and fraudulent insurance claims related to arson,” according to the Herald.
Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook initially posted the news of the house fires on Facebook on March 13. Based on evidence gathered at the time, she said that “the messages left behind indicated a potential bias-based motive.”
Now that the truth has been revealed, Cook praised the work of her investigators in discovering what really happened. “I have zero tolerance for anyone who comes into our community and uses hate as a cover for their own schemes.”
She further thanked community members who volunteered information that led to the unraveling of the case.