The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is offering a $10,000 reward for information related to the September 2 Close Reach Imports arson.
The early morning fire heavily damaged the two-story building, located at Meadas Plaza, Cruz Bay, St. John, causing an estimated damage of $200,000, according to an ATF press release.
The reward money was put up by the insurance company whch insured the St. Johnian-owned building, explained ATF special agent Jay Quabius, who is leading the arson investigation.
Target of Two Arsons
Robert Sells, owner of Close Reach Imports, had disagreements with another business tenant in Meadas Plaza and was the target of two arson fires in the wake of reported racial graffiti incident and rape on the islands East End.
Sells was arrested on a citizens compaint on June 3 for assaulting the neighboring business owner, Esther Frett, in Meadas Plaza. The V.I. Police Department report on the altercation states Sells bumped into the woman, pushing her slightly, causing her to become off-balance.
Misdemeanors to Felonies
The original charges stemming from the incident were filed as misdemeanors and Sells was released on bail. The misdemeanor charges were dropped and two new felony intimidation charges, in addition to the aggravated assault and battery and disturbing the peace charges, were filed on Friday, October 14, in Territorial Court.
On November 3, Sells pled not guilty to all charges and requested a jury trial in an appearance before Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar. No trial date has been set.
When Sells returned to his Estate Adrian home the night of November 3, he found it had been ransacked. VIPD officials collected forensics evidence and are conducting an investigation into the incident.
Frett, who owned House of Dolls in Meadas Plaza until it closed on June 30, reported racial graffiti was scrawled on her vehicle and a fence outside of her East End home on June 20.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in to lead the investigation of the graffiti case which many in the community dubbed a hate crime. The FBI has not released any information regarding the case and have not named any suspects.
On August 30, Frett reported that she was kidnapped and raped on the islands East End. The FBI is leading the investigation and no information has been released or any suspects named in the case.
The reported rape resulted in public outcry and a heated town meeting in the Frank Powell Sr., Park the night of August 31. Jeep, Retail Store Arson Fires
Hours after the meeting, Sells Jeep was set afire and around 3 a.m. the next day his retail store, Close Reach Imports, was torched.
Frett also reported on October 15 she was struck in the foot from a metal rolling gate during a sit-in at JJs Texas Coast Cafe in an effort to pressure officials to release information regarding the racially-motivated summer crimes. The incident was classified an accidental injury by VIPD officials.
On October 23, Fretts husband reported racial graffiti was once again written on his vehicle while it was parked in the area of Sputniks in Coral Bay. Two minutes later, he reported telephone harassment.
Reward Money May Help
ATF officials are leading the arson investigations and have not released any information but are hoping that the reward money will induce people in the community to come forward.
Anyone with information relating to the Close Reach Imports arson is urged to call the U.S. Marshal Service tip line at 773-5393 or the ATF St. Thomas Office at 693-2237. All information received will remain confidential.