YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio— A city woman is facing federal charges that allege she conspired with property owners and others to set her home on fire in order to collect more than $60,000 in insurance money.
Latasha Curtis, 32, was arrested last week by the FBI on charges of using a fire to commit a felony, maliciously destroying a building by fire and conspiracy. The case was unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Youngstown.
Curtis entered no plea at her initial appearance in front of Magistrate Judge George Limbert. A preliminary and detention hearing was scheduled for Monday.
An FBI affidavit asking for permission to arrest Curtis says she, the property owner’s daughter and others conspired on Oct. 19 to burn down the three-story home she was renting at 75 Hilton Ave.
The affidavit says the others are currently under investigation and could face charges. The affidavit says the group collected $67,916 in insurance money after the fire and divided it up. Curtis, the affidavit says, was given two payments totaling $5,000.
The insurance policy holder’s daughter also provided Curtis with a vehicle. In one instance, a confidential informant working with the FBI told agents she drove Curtis to meet the other woman. Curtis exited her car, entered the other woman’s and came back to her car counting money.
Curtis told the informant, who was in the Trumbull County Jail at the time, that she set the house on fire because she had no money for her five children, who at the time were between ages 3 and 14, and wanted to move away from her neighborhood.
The insurance policy owner, the affidavit says, wanted to burn down the home because she didn’t have money to repair broken water pipes in the home.
Curtis told the confidential informant she believes the insurance policy holder knew about the plans.
FBI agents began investigating after employees of First Place Bank reported suspicious activity from the insurance policy owner who is related to the property owner. Neither have been charged.
The affidavit says the woman whose name the insurance policy was held under deposited a $67,916 check from State Farm. A month later she withdrew $10,000 from the account. Four days after that she withdrew the remaining $57,916.
The owner of the three-story home was listed as the insurance policy holders granddaughter.
Curtis initially told fire investigators that she was cooking at 2 a.m. and had to take a friend to the hospital. The State Farm report, however, says she took her child to the emergency room because of a nosebleed.
In December 2012, the confidential informant told her probation officer about the arson plan. The informant told FBI agents Curtis and the insurance policy holder’s daughter intentionally set the fire.
The informant told agents she went to Walmart with Curtis and bought charcoal, rubbing alcohol and lighter fluid. Fire reports indicate charcoal was found inside the home.
The affidavit says the informant went to the home on the day of the fire and saw a man and his boyfriend placing all the furniture in the house in the kitchen. All the Walmart bags were placed nearby, the affidavit says.
A maintenance man for the building drilled a hole in the kitchen ceiling above where the fire started so it would spread quickly to the upper levels. Curtis told the informant it was made to look like the hole was being repaired.
They put a towel next to grease and turned on the burners to start the fire, the affidavit says.
The informant then wore surveillance equipment and recorded a conversation with Curtis about the entire fire. Curtis told the informant that the insurance policy holder’s daughter started the fire after a man took her and her children to the hospital.
After the fire, a donation fund was set up at Huntington Bank for the family under the title “Curtis Family Fund.” Curtis asked for donations to help cloth and feed her five children at the time.