Kormahyah Karmue, 40, of Providence, was sentenced today to 78 months in federal prison, having been convicted by a federal court jury of being the mastermind behind an arson-for-profit scheme to set fire to an occupied multi-family dwelling he owned in Providence in an effort to collect more than $725,000 in insurance payments.
Karmue was also sentenced for defrauding the government of $61,250 in unemployment compensation he was not entitled. Prior to the start of his trial on charges of masterminding the arson-for-profit scheme, Karmue admitted to the court that beginning in July 2009 he repeatedly filed false documents and collected unemployment compensation from the Rhode Island Department of Employment and Training while self-employed. On his application, Karmue denied he was unemployed. He pleaded guilty to theft of government funds.
At sentencing, U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith also ordered Karmue to serve three years supervised release upon completion of his prison term and to pay $72,420 restitution: $35,000 to U.S. Treasury, $26,250 to State of Rhode Island and $11,200 to Allstate Insurance. A jury convicted Karmue on May 14, 2015, of conspiracy to commit arson and three counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud.
Three co-defendants who pleaded guilty to charges related to their participation in the scheme were sentenced earlier this month. Gbabia Kollie, 27, of Johnson City, Tenn., was sentenced on July 15 to three years in federal prison to be followed by three years supervised release, and ordered restitution in the amount of $2,800; Nakele Freeman, 21, of Providence, was sentenced on July 16 to three years in federal prison to be followed by three years supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,800; and Abraham Kerkula, 21, of Pawtucket, who was arrested and detained on November 15, 2013, was sentenced on July 16, 2015 to time served in federal prison and three years supervised release. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,800.
The sentences are announced by United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha; Daniel J. Kumor, Special Agent in Charge of the Boston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré.
The government’s evidence showed that on November 2, 2013, an individual working at the direction of Karmue and others, intentionally spread gasoline around a third floor apartment inside 31-33 Ida Street. The gasoline was inadvertently ignited by a flame from a gas heater before the individual could strike a match. Several occupants in the building, including a family with five young children inside a second floor apartment, fled from the building. Karmue orchestrated the scheme from Liberia.
According to the government’s evidence, beginning in early October 2013, Karmue communicated from Liberia with Kollie, convincing him to travel to Rhode Island to set fire to the Ida Street building in an effort to avoid foreclosure and to collect insurance payments. Karmue promised to pay Kollie between $15,000 and $30,000 for his role in the arson-for-profit scheme.
According to the government’s evidence, after arriving in Rhode Island in late October, Kollie changed his mind and decided that he would not set fire to the tenement and returned home to Tennessee. After returning home, Kollie contacted a brother-in-law in Rhode Island, Nakelee Freemen, and enlisted his assistance to help to carry out the arson-for profit scheme in exchange for $7,500.
On November 1, 2013, Freeman contacted Abraham Kerkula and asked him to drive him to a location where he, Freeman, was going to set fire to a building for “a lot of money.” Freeman and Kerkula traveled together to at least two retail outlets where Freeman purchased several items, including a five-gallon gasoline storage container, a one-gallon liquid storage container and gloves. They then traveled to a local supermarket where Freeman filled the larger storage container with gasoline.
According to the government’s evidence, in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013, Kerkula and Freeman drove to the target property. A surveillance camera attached to a nearby building captured images of the vehicle Kerkula was driving as it arrived at the targeted property, drove past the building, then returned and stopped in front of a driveway. Freeman can be seen in the video exiting the vehicle, removing the gasoline container and other items from the vehicle and then entering the property through a side door using keys the evidence showed that he and Kerkula retrieved earlier in the day.
According to the government’s evidence, once inside the building Freeman entered a third floor apartment where he spread gasoline on the floor of a bedroom which was being used for storage and in the kitchen. Before Freeman could finish spreading the gasoline and striking a match to ignite the fuel, the gasoline was ignited by a flame from a gas heater. Freeman fled the building to Kerkula’s vehicle which had moved to at a pre-determined location on a nearby side street. Once inside the vehicle Freeman stated to Kerkula that the fire had not gone as planned, and they fled the area.
Members of the Providence Fire Department’s Arson Squad, who responded to the Ida Street property shortly after Providence Fire Department firefighters, quickly determined that the fire likely was deliberately set.
As the Providence Fire Department, joined by investigators and agents from ATF, continued to investigate the cause of the fire and who was responsible, Karmue began communicating with his insurance carrier seeking payment for damages to the building and for relocation expenses. Over the course of the next several months Karmue was provided three insurance payments for relocation expenses. The building was insured for $725,583.
As a result of information developed by the Providence Fire Department’s Arson Squad and ATF, Freeman and Kerkula were arrested on federal criminal complaints on November 15, 2013, and ordered detained. Gbabia Kollie was removed from an outbound international flight leaving Atlanta for Liberia and arrested by ATF agents on a federal criminal complaint on December 5, 2013. He was returned to Rhode Island and ordered detained.
Karmue, who returned to the United States from Liberia within days of the fire being set, was arrested in Providence on May 27, 2014, and detained in federal custody.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William J. Ferland and Richard B. Myrus.