Landlord Faces Life in Prison for Serial Arsons

Gerald Singer arsonist landlord

A landlord in western Michigan could spend the rest of his life in prison after being sentenced this week as a serial arsonist-for-profit. Gerald Singer, 74, was convicted of arson and fraud relating to a series of fires -- from the mid-1990s until 2007 -- at homes and other buildings that he owned. Singer was sentenced in federal court to a mandatory 55 years in prison and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution, according to local media reports.

Among the victims of the fires at Singer's properties was the family of Delaina Peters. Michigan news website reports that her three young children and a babysitter were in the house at the time of the fire, and that Peters and her husband arrived home to the traumatic sight of firefighters battling the flames at their dwelling. "For 16 years we've struggled because of what that one day did for our family," she told the news site. "You never recover. ... Hopefully I can sleep knowing that he's going to be locked up."

Singer was convicted in March on 11 counts of arson and mail fraud in the scheme to swindle $700,000 from insurance companies and deceive the Internal Revenue Service. Though convicted of committing arson at only three of his properties, Singer was suspected by authorities, reports MLive, of setting nine arson fires over 14 years in the communities of Muskegon Heights -- where Peters' family lived -- Muskegon, Norton Shores, Grand Haven and Gary, Ind. Two of the properties he was convicted of setting aflame were residential.

Along with his long sentence, he was ordered to pay insurance companies and the IRS $653,140, reported WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids (as seen in video below). "We're not going to tolerate people burning down homes, which is going to raise the insurance costs for everybody, which is going to put first responders, their lives at risk," the TV station quoted a prosecutor in the case, Asst. U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles, as saying. Miles didn't comment on whether 34 individuals who were also victims in the case would see restitution.

In arguing for a lighter sentence than mandated by law, MLive reported Singer's attorney, Michael R. Bartish, as saying, "It just seems to me that for this offense, the sentence is certainly greater than necessary." He termed it "cruel and unusual punishment," the news site said, adding that he would appeal. "I'm concerned about his health," Bartish said of Singer.

The judge apparently was unmoved. The risk to life and limb posed by the fires the landlord set was justification for the 55-year-sentence, WZZM quoted the judge as saying, while adding that at his age Singer also should have known better.

Neither did Singer get much sympathy from Peters, his former tenant. "He got to enjoy 16 years in the lap of luxury," she told MLive. "My family, pretty much, we were all prisoners."