SEATTLE – The man who set a Seattle warehouse fire that killed four firefighters nearly two decades ago hatched a plan while in prison to steal the identities of people involved in his case so he could fraudulently collect money after his release, Seattle police said Tuesday.
Martin Pang is in the Monroe Correctional Complex following his 1995 conviction for manslaughter. He was scheduled to be released in 2018 after good behaviour reduced his 35-year sentence, authorities said.
But while behind bars, Pang contacted co-conspirator Charles McClain, and the men planned to set up credit accounts in the names of firefighters, officers and witnesses involved in Pang’s case by stealing their identities, according to authorities. They would then direct money to offshore accounts.
Upon his release, Pang planned to travel to Brazil, where he fled after the warehouse fire, investigators said.
“We believe that Pang’s motives were both retaliation and greed,” Seattle police interim chief Jim Pugel said.
Pugel wasn’t sure how Pang knew McClain or how he contacted the man from prison. But the two thought they could get millions of dollars from their scheme, Pugel said.
Pang had identity information for 20 witnesses and had accessed personal information from firefighters, which authorities say he obtained through an attorney.
It wasn’t immediately clear if either Pang or McClain had an attorney on the fraud accusations. But John Henry Browne, who represented Pang during the warehouse case, said he did not provide Pang with firefighters’ personal information.
Browne said he was stunned at the new allegations against Pang.
“I know that during the process when I represented Martin, that he had come to grieve what he had done,” he said.
Browne added he could not understand the alleged motive: “Martin inherited a lot of money from his parents, who have passed on. I don’t know why he would need money.”
An investigation into Pang’s scheme began in March when authorities say the Department of Corrections learned about it. The agency partnered with Seattle police, the FBI and Snohomish County authorities.
An undercover officer then infiltrated Pang and McClain’s circle. Investigators say McClain gave the detective checks, Social Security information and the IDs of planned fraud targets.
“During the investigation, Pang also provided a police source with the names and Social Security numbers of key witnesses in his 1995 case,” the statement said.
The men also planned to siphon money from bank accounts of the Tulalip Casino, where McClain had worked but been fired, Pugel said.
No charges have yet been filed, but the investigation has been forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office. Pang could face additional prison time if he’s found guilty, or lose the time that was taken off his 35-year term.
News of the alleged scheme opened old wounds in Seattle.
“These latest crimes demonstrate that Martin Pang has no remorse for the four deaths that he caused,” said Kenny Stuart, president of Seattle Firefighters Local 27. “His actions continue to victimize the families of the fallen and the entire department.”
The four firefighters died after the floor at the warehouse collapsed. Pang had set the fire to his parents’ business to collect an insurance payoff.
After the blaze, Pang fled the country. He avoided murder charges because Browne argued Brazil had no felony murder statute equivalent to Washington state’s.
“These brave men died protecting the community they serve,” Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean said. “The latest allegations bring back painful memories to the families of the firefighters who died in the line of duty.”
Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report.