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Firemen wanted, policeman joins arson ring

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BOSTON -- A police officer, upset with the layoff of police and firemen, pleaded guilty to charges that he was part of an arson ring that set 29 fires in 1982 to force the hiring of more firefighters.

Prosecutors plan to recommend that Robert F. Groblewski, 27, of Weymouth, be sentenced to 12 years in federal prison, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Robinson.

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Groblewski changed his plea from innocent to guilty Wednesday just before his trial was to begin in U.S. District Court, Robinson said. Sentencing is scheduled for July 6.

Groblewski was charged with being involved in 28 fires in Boston and one in Canton from April 1982 to November 1982, a period during which police and firefighters were being laid off due to tax cuts mandated by Proposition 2 . The blazes tore through dwellings, businesses and vacant buildings, causingabout $2.5 million in damage and injuring dozens of firefighters, officials said.

At one blaze at a military barracks in South Boston, 22 firefighters were injured when the roof of the building collapsed. Two received permanent disabilities.

Robinson said prosecutors had evidence of a 'conversation among the guys, the co-conspirators, that the fire protection level in Boston was dangerously low because of Proposition 2 , and the best way to demonstrate that to the public would be to set a number of highly visible fires.'

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Prosecutors said many of the fires were set in a manner designed to leave no trace of arson: a plastic bag containing flammable liquid was exploded by a fuse made from a book of matches.

Groblewski pleaded guilty to 10 counts, including one count of conspiracy to set 29 fires and nine counts relating to his participation in setting specific individual fires.

Robinson said in 1982 there was a dramatic rise in the number of fires and the number of fire alarm boxes stolen in Boston. The fires were set 'corresponding to the location where the fire boxes were stolen,' Robinson said.

The alleged co-conspirators 'would rip out a box at a particular location so that by the time the fire department was called in, it would be a highly visible conflagration,' he said.

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