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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Former St. Cloud bar owner sentenced to 71 months in prison for arson

An ex-bar owner from St. Cloud was sentenced to six years in federal prison for setting fire to his establishment and attempting to file $1.9 million in insurance claims.

Andrew Charles Welsh, 43, of St. Joseph, Minnesota, was given a 71-month prison term followed by three years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Eric Tostrud on Friday. Along with paying more than $3 million in reparations, Tostrud also mandated that Welsh pay roughly $193,000 to the St. Cloud Fire Department.

Welsh admitted guilt to one count of arson in May, roughly two weeks before his case went to trial, for setting fire to his office in the Press Bar and Parlor’s basement on February 17, 2020. The 12-hour fire entirely damaged the structure, which was thereafter torn down.

According to court records, the guy was battling the stress of running the tavern and an impending divorce.

In a court brief this month, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger requested the judge to impose the 71-month prison term, writing, “Plainly stated, this is a crime motivated by greed.”

For $825,000, Welsh and his then-wife, Jessie, purchased the tavern in the heart of St. Cloud’s historic district in April 2016. He put down $100,000 and later missed a $50,000 payment by two years; he finally paid it after the sellers started the process of terminating the contract for deed.

Welsh attempted to sell the pub since he had a $457,000 payment due, but he soon realized he would probably only be able to recoup that amount. Welsh “planned the dramatic step of burning down the bar in the hopes of generating a substantial profit from the insurance benefits,” Luger wrote, not satisfied to just break even.

Welsh went down to the bar’s basement office shortly after it closed for the evening and used gasoline to start a fire on top of his desk. After that, he went home and abandoned the building, letting the fire to spread. Smoke started to appear on the streets of downtown St. Cloud in less than 20 minutes. Ten minutes later, a person who was sleeping upstairs in a neighboring building had a fire alarm go off.

Although the nearby structures were spared from destruction, the fire severely damaged the downtown area of St. Cloud, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage to both the city and the nearby businesses, according to Luger.

Then Welsh hired a claims adjuster to assist him in filing two insurance claims with Illinois Casualty Company, one for $1.6 million for the structure and the other for $337,000 for personal goods.

Welsh had financial issues, but Luger claimed that he had “legal ways” of handling them, such as breaking even on the sale of the pub or returning the property to the sellers on the contract for transfer.

If all else had failed, he could have filed for bankruptcy, according to Luger. However, “Defendant callously and selfishly chose to imperil the property and lives of others for his own benefit instead of seeking a lawful remedy.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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