BOSTON -- Seven men, including four public safety officers, were indicted by a federal grand jury for setting 163 fires across eastern Massachusetts in 1982, allegedly to protest spending cuts in police and fire protection, the government announced Wednesday.
Authorities said it was believed to be the biggest arson case in U.S. history.
The seven defendants were charged in an 83-count indictment which said the fires in 10 cities and towns caused $22 million in damage and injured 280 firefighters over a 10-month period. No one was killed, but some firefighters were seriously injured or disabled fighting the blazes.
One of the defendants, calling himself 'Mr. Flare,' allegedly wrote a Boston television station during the height of the scare, vowing the arson spree would continue until cuts in fire and police forces were restored, U.S. Attorney William F. Weld said.
'This is the largest arson case in the history of the state and the federal government in terms of the number of fires,' Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke told a news conference.
Weld said it was believed to be the biggest case of its kind in any state.
He said the primary motive of the alleged conspiracy was to protest the enactment of a state tax-cutting law in 1981, known as Proposition 2 , whichput thousands of firefighters and police out of work across Massachusetts.
'The primary motive was to call public attention to the need for more firefighters,' Weld said, but said some of the fires were also set for profit and revenge.
The fires terrorized Boston and other cities across eastern Massachusetts from February to November 1982 -- usually between midnight and 6 a.m.
The blazes occurred in Cambridge, Canton, Chelsea, Concord, Dedham, Fitchburg, Foxboro, Lawrence and Stow, the indictment said.
The buildings, mostly unoccupied at the time, included churches, houses, stores, factories, military barracks and the Massachusetts Fire Academy. But several of the blazes spread to occupied buildings forcing their evacuation.
The worst was the $13 million fire at the Spero Toy Co. in Boston June 3, 1982 which injured 31 firefighters, according to the indictment which was issued Tuesday and unsealed Wednesday.
Five of the seven men were arraigned Wednesday in Boston before U.S. Magistrate Joyce London Alexander.
Gregg M. Bemis, 23, Wayne S. Sanden, 28, both of Boston and Donald F. Stackpole, 28, of suburban Scituate, were all charged with conspiracy, arson and obstruction of justice and ordered held without bail. Bemis and Sanden are both Boston Housing Authority police officers. Bemis was also charged with mailing the threatening letter to a Boston TV station.
Ray J. Norton Jr., 44, a disabled Boston firefighter, and Joseph M. Gorman, 27, of suburban Quincy were charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting arson. Norton was held on $50,000 bail while Gorman was released on $25,000 bail.
Christopher R. Damon, 27, of Hamilton, Ohio, was charged with conspiracy and ordered held on $15,000 bail by a federal magistrate in Ohio. Leonard A. Kendall Jr., 22, of Acton, Mass., a U.S. Air Force firefighter, was charged with conspiracy, arson and perjury and ordered held on $100,000 bail by a federal magistrate in Georgia.
All of the defendants pleaded not guilty and face prison terms ranging from five to 20 years and fines of up to $20,000.