DENVER (CBS4) – A Denver man was sentenced to serve 10 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $2.9 million in restitution. Michael Marte, 55, was charged with arson in connection with the fire at 1920 and 1930 Grove Street in May 2017. The loss was estimated at $4 million — and investigators say Marte had an insurance policy on the property for that amount.

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Marte pleaded guilty on November 25, 2019. United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn said Marte was remanded at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing.

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Marte told prosecutors an Australian real estate developer hired him to oversee the construction project in West Denver, and paid him $200,000 per year.

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The project consisted of scrapping two single home residences and replacing them with two separate multi-unit buildings on each lot. Each building contained seven townhomes. The project continued into early 2018, when both buildings were in the final phase, complete with roofing, siding, doors and windows. Interior finishing touches were all that was still needed.

Around 2 a.m. on May 10, 2018 — while the developer was on a plane to Denver to check on the development — both buildings were completely destroyed in the 3-alarm fire.

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It took approximately half of Denver’s Fire Department to extinguish it. They fought the fire for approximately eight hours.

“Denver Fire Investigators and ATF agents quickly suspected arson,” prosecutors stated.

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They said one key piece of evidence was surveillance from a video doorbell camera, which was provided by a nearby resident.

“It showed a vehicle identical to the defendant’s driving into the area shortly before the blaze began.  It also showed large billows of smoke and flames rising from the buildings,” prosecutors stated.

“Another surveillance video showed a man of Marte’s description quickly walking away after the fire started.  Investigators found clothes that had fire accelerant on them that were matched to the defendant through DNA,” they added.

Investigators also found Marte purchased a $4 million insurance policy on the property with himself names as the beneficiary. Shortly after the fire he quickly attempted to obtain the insurance money. He was denied.

“Mr. Marte thought he could steal $4,000,000 by igniting a fire that destroyed someone else’s property and put lives at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  “But arson is a serious crime that has serious criminal consequences, as Mr. Marte has now discovered the hard way.”

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