Investigators: Vacant Mansion Fire Was Intentional

Home once belonged to former pastor Robert Freeman, who was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to obstructing bankruptcy proceedings

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Investigators say the fire that gutted a waterfront mansion on the Potomac River over the weekend was intentionally set. (Published Monday, Jun 9, 2014)

    A blaze at a waterfront mansion -- previously owned by a pastor before he was sentenced to prison -- was intentionally set over the weekend, fire investigators say.

    The mansion has been vacant for about two years, which had made it vulnerable to arson, investigators say.

    As a precaution, the Potomac Heights Volunteer Fire Department actually had a plan in place in case the home went up in flames -- and they used that plan Sunday afternoon, after someone started the fire in the three-car garage of the home at 5200 Rivers Edge Place in Indian Head, Maryland.

    The State Fire Marshal's Office said the culprit used an incendiary device.

    Set high on a hill that overlooks the Potomac River, the 15,000-square foot mansion was once valued at more than $1.7 million.

    Its former owner, Robert Freeman, was the charismatic preacher of Seed Faith International Church. But, prosecutors said, Freeman took millions of dollars from church members to buy the mansion, as well as cars and other luxury goods. 

    Freeman then hid those assets when he filed for bankruptcy, prosecutors said. In 2012, he was sentenced to 27 months in prison after pleading guilty to obstructing bankruptcy proceedings.

     

    A boater spotted the fire just before 2 p.m. Sunday.

    It took about three hours for 75 firefighters from multiple jurisdictions to get the blaze under control. One firefighter was transported to a nearby hospital because of a heat-related illness.

    The home suffered significant damage, and investigators continued their work Monday at the mansion and its still-smoking garage.

    "The preliminary cause at this point is arson," said Maryland State Fire Marshal Duane Svites. "It's an intentional act. There's no accidental sources of ignition available, so we're going to continue to reconstruct the scene to confirm that."