Stopping the fire-starter: Serial arsonist gets 30 years after burning buildings for profit

From downtown to Carmichael, Sacramento man torched various businesses for insurance money

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the February 22, 2018, issue.

Jamal Shehadeh has likely put his last smokestack over Sacramento’s sky.

The 59-year-old pleaded guilty February 10 to running an elaborate scheme to burn down local businesses on properties owned by him or his accomplices, all the while threatening lives in more than a half-dozen neighborhoods as he netted $1.5 million in fraudulent insurance claims.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Shehadeh’s pyro-pirating started in December 2009, when he secretly set ablaze a structure on E Street, which was owned by his relative, Saber Shehadeh. Jamal Shehadeh then submitted a sizable claim to State Farm Insurance. Federal prosecutors assert that, over the next five years, Jamal Shehadeh then set fire to George’s Auto Care on Broadway Avenue, True Value Market on 10th Street, Galaxy Sacramento on 65th Street, the Cobblestone Cafe on University Avenue, Gold Star Auto Supply on Fulton Avenue and Escape Therapy on Marconi Avenue in Carmichael. He also torched the E Street building a second time.

In every case, Jamal Shehadeh or people close to him had ownership ties and insurance policies for the properties, prosecutors say. Claims then went out to State Farm, AMCO Insurance or Century Surety Company.

A multicount federal indictment against Shehadeh also details how, in addition to committing the arsons, Shehadeh was clandestinely operating a phony construction company that would bill insurance providers for fixing the very fire damage that Shehadeh caused. Prosecutors allege Shehadeh was aided in this ruse by “a disbarred attorney” named Brian Stone, who’s facing related charges.

Shehadeh and his accomplices were arrested during a joint investigation by the Sacramento Fire Department, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, the FBI and the IRS.

This week, FBI Special Agent Sean Ragan said in a release that Jamal Shehadeh had “threatened the lives and safety of our community members” for nothing more than sheer greed.

In the same release, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott added that Shehadeh operated “with a complete disregard for the lives of anyone nearby, including firefighters.”

Shehadeh was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. (Scott Thomas Anderson)