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New Kids Wahlberg settles hotel fire case

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- An arson charge against Donnie Wahlberg of the pop group New Kids on the Block has been reduced to a misdemeanor charge that is expected to be dismissed after the musician completes community service, his lawyer said Thursday.

Wahlberg, 21, was charged with first-degree arson March 27 after officials accused him setting a fire at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville. Fire officials said Wahlberg poured vodka on a ninth-floor hallway carpet, then ignited it. The small fire caused little damage and no one was injured.

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At a hearing held Wednesday night to avoid crowds and security problems, Wahlberg said he accepted responsibility for his actions and agreed to videotape public service announcements on fire safety, drug abuse and drunken driving.

The charge against him was reduced to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief. That charge will be dismissed after Wahlberg completes the public service announcements, said his lawyer, Len Lewin.

'Contrary to the erroneous reports being disseminated in some news accounts, Donnie did not plead guilty nor was he found guilty of the misdemeanor or any other offense,' Lewin said in a statement. He said Wahlberg had 'volunteered' to make the videos under the court's diversion program.

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'Donnie Wahlberg and the New Kids on the Block are pleased that this matter has been resolved, and thank all the fans and supporters who wrote letters in support of Donnie,' Lewin said.

At the hearing, Wahlberg said, 'I would like to apologize ... I definitely accept responsibility for my actions in this very unfortunate incident.'

He said he was 'very excited' about doing the public service ads.

Wahlberg had initially denied the charge that could have resulted in 20 years in prison if the case went to trial and he was convicted.

Wahlberg and his Boston-based singing group face another legal problem in Iowa, where an adult and three teenagers have sued the group for allegedly setting off a stampede that resulted in 17 concertgoers being taken to the hospital.

The plaintiffs are suing for the 'pain and suffering' allegedly caused after Wahlberg jumped into a crowd during a concert in Ames, Iowa, in November, touching off a stampede.

Mark Pennington, a lawyer for the four plaintiffs, said his clients 'literally were afraid they were going to be trampled. They felt people walking on their backs.'

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