CHICAGO – A Wisconsin bar owner has been sent to prison for setting fire to his bar with tenants still upstairs, grabbing cash on his way out.
On July 16, 2020, 42-year-old Brian Whitton of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Whitton was found guilty following a jury trial last February of arson of a commercial building, two counts of mail fraud, arson to commit another felony offense, and making a false statement to law enforcement agents.
The jury found that Whitton intentionally set fire to his business, a bar called “The Stage Off Main” located at 854 Martin Street in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on March 25, 2017. The evidence at trial revealed that the fire originated in the basement of the building and included surveillance video that captured Whitton quickly exiting the basement, emptying the cash registers, and leaving the bar approximately 18 seconds before smoke started to fill the first floor of the building.
The fire was set around 3:00 a.m. when the upper apartment unit in the building was occupied by Whitton’s two tenants and their guest. Fortunately, no citizens or first responders were injured as a result of the fire but the building sustained damage. Whitton, who was experiencing financial difficulty at the time, submitted a fraudulent proof of loss claim to his insurance carrier, United States Liability Insurance Company, LLC (“USLI”), in which he falsely claimed that the fire was the result of an accident. Whitton also repeatedly lied about his activities immediately preceding the fire to investigators.
Senior District Judge William C. Griesbach characterized arson as a “horrendous crime” and noted, “This is behavior that no people of civilized society can tolerate.” Whitton will also be required to spend 3 years on supervised release following his prison sentence and was ordered to pay $161,833.07 in restitution to USLI.
United States Attorney Krueger stated, “This substantial prison sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks arson is acceptable in any circumstance. The United States Attorney’s Office commends the dedicated work of our law enforcement partners in holding Whitton accountable.”
The case was jointly investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”), the Waukesha Police Department and the Waukesha Fire Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Kelly B. Watzka and Timothy W. Funnell.