GREENBELT, Md. – One of the men under arrest in a $10 million arson spree at a new housing development outside Washington told investigators the fires were set to gain notoriety for a gang, according to court papers made public Tuesday.
It was the latest of several potential motives to emerge since the Dec. 6 rash of fires destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others at the Hunters Brooke (search) development, much of which was still under construction.
Six young men have been arrested, and authorities have said they have interviewed or plan to question about 10 other people who may be connected to the fires.
Michael Gilbert, 21, arrested Monday, acknowledged under interrogation that he knew about the plot in advance, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
"Gilbert said that he was a member of `the family,' also known as the 'Unseen Cavaliers,' a gang operating in Charles County, Md.," authorities said in the documents.
"The leader of the `family' is Patrick Walsh. Gilbert stated that approximately one month ago, Walsh approached Gilbert saying Walsh had a plan to make `the family bigger and more famous.' Walsh's plan had to do with setting `something' on fire and that it would be big."
Walsh, 20, was arrested over the weekend. His attorney, William B. Purpura, denied the allegations in the affidavit. "He's not the head of any gang," he said.
Revenge also has been mentioned as a possible motive.
The first man arrested, Aaron L. Speed (search), a 21-year-old security guard who worked at the construction site, allegedly told investigators he was angry with his employer because it did not show enough sympathy after his infant son died this year.
A federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that another of the men under arrest, a volunteer firefighter, had tried unsuccessfully to get a job with the construction company building the houses.
Investigators have also said racism may have been a motive. The six men are white, while many of the families moving into the new houses are black. The official who spoke on condition of anonymity said two of the men made racial statements while talking to investigators.
Initially, there was speculation the fires were set by environmental extremists because some critics had complained the houses threatened a nearby bog. But no evidence has been found to support that theory, police said.
Gilbert appeared in court Tuesday and was ordered held for a bail hearing. His attorney would not comment. His mother, Christine Gilbert, said, "My son's a good boy."
Several of the men were interested in street racing and may have been members of an informal racing club, according to a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"A lot of them know each other from that club. That's one thing they had in common," the source said.