Group Found to Have Used Mails in Crime to Collect $1,125,000 Insurance Policy—Fire Bugs Barely Escape When Candle Overturns

USING the United States mails in an attempt to consummate an arson crime was a prime factor in placing seven mem behind the bars of Federal prison at Atlanta, Ga. The men pleaded guilty to fifteen counts in an indictment charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States Government, and this is the first time that such a move was taken by the prosecution.

On June 24, 1927, a United States bonded and free warehouse at 52 Greenwich street in New York city was set afire and before it could be extinguished it developed into a four-alarm blaze. Fire Marshal Thomas P. Brophy and members of his staff were on the scene at once and started an investigation the motive for which was increased when Martin Scott, assistant fire marshal, found an empty five-gallon gasoline can in the building not far from the point where it is believed that the fire originated.

Mr. Brophy seized the books, records and correspondence of the warehouse firm and summonded the owners and tenants to his office for examination. There was every indication that the authorities were dealing with a well organized arson ring, therefor some of the principals were trailed on the following Sunday to a sea shore resort conducted by a Greek. The principals, all Greeks, spoke their native tongue. What they talked about was later learned from the Greek waiter.

When the accumulation of evidence subsequently reached the point which indicated that a gigantic fraud had been perpetrated against the United States Government, Chief Brophy called in the Federal District Attorney and with the aid of detectives James McCoy and Peter Hayais (a Greek-American) of the New York Police Department, as well as Assistant Fire Marshal William R. Ferris and Special Revenue Agent James Lynch they closed in on the band and jailed them in the Tombs Prison as Federal prisoners, later indicting eleven defendants for conspiracy, larceny, fraud and misuse of the mails.

Principals in New York Warehouse Arson Ring Left to right, Charles Carmen, Charles Kwit, Simon Swiebach, George Spirou, Peter Andrews, Socrates Moschalades and John Couramalis. See story for part each one had in gigantic arson plot.

It developed that the leaders of the band held $1,125,000 insurance in various companies throughout the United States; that Socrates Moschalades, the master mind of the coterie, a wealthy importer, had bought for Peter Andrew a $5,000 interest in the warehouse which made Andrew’s the dummy president of the company; that they and their confederates, not only removed their own merchandise from the warehouse but stole the goods and merchandise of some of the honest tenants of the building; intending to cover the thefts with the fire; that they stored in the warehouse large quantities of rotten and worthless goods; that they “rigged” their books and accounts as well as their records of withdrawals and deliveries; that they made their merchandise appear to be of high value; that they hired professional fire bugs and that they made use of the mails to advance the arson plot and subsequent fire.

On the day set for the fire, it was arranged that two trucks would back into the loading platform to pick up 100 barrels of olives which were stored in the cellar—this in order to assign the laborers to the cellar to load the barrels into slings, while the firebugs on an upper floor were applying the torch.

But, before 100 barrels of olives could be hoisted out of the cellar, the lighted candle which was set to burn, toppled over in its insecure foundation and fell into the gasoline soaked merchandise around it, causing an explosion and forcing the incendiaries to flee—in fact they were slightly singed.

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Eight in Arson King Sentenced

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The one particular piece of evidence seized by the authorities and used in framing the indictment for using the mails to aid or abet the crime of arson against the U. S. Government, was a series of letters which passed between the actual firebug and one of the principals in which the code word for the warehouse was “the bride” and the code word for the proposed fire was “the wedding.”

So strong was the evidence and so conclusive the proof against the band, that they pleaded “guilty” rather than go to trial and run the risk of a long term in prison. The New York Board of Fire Underwriters had retained two of the ablest lawyers in New York to protect the interests of the insurance companies. When it was learned that pleas of “guilty” were in order, there was a quick rush by attorneys to impress on Federal Judge Goddard the fact that their respective clients “were the first to save the government the expense of a trial and tell all they knew an the interests of justice.”

Be it said to the credit of former Deputy Fire Commissioner Clarence Fay, that upon learning from his client (one of the underlings in the plot) the facts of the case, he took his client to the office of Federal District Attorney Charles H. Tuttle anti advised a “clean breast” of the whole affair.

Although indictments against eleven defendants were handed up by the Federal Grand Jury, at this writing, only eight of tlie eleven have been disposed of. The pictures of seven are shown, for the reason that the eighth defendant is a youth who was employed by the master mind of the arson ring in a managerial capacity. He had no actual hand in the fire and although he pleaded guilty to having certain knowledge, he was let off with a suspended sentence. It is because of this circumstance and his age and the hope that he may live it down, that his name is withheld from publication.

The seven defendants now in prison and their sentences imposed by Judge Goddard are: Socrates Moschalades, master mind and arch conspirator of the arson ring, eight years and fined $7,500; George Spirou, chief lieutenant of Moschalades. six years; Charles Kwit, professional procurer of firebugs, six years; Charles Carmen, the actual torch, five years; Simon Zweibach, an incendiary got only two years in consideration for “handing up” Kwit the procurer; John Couramalis and Peter Andrews each got one year and one day because they gave the government important information.

Thus, eight of the eleven defendants are disposed of. lhe truckman who was sent to the warehouse to get the olives and a furrier alleged to have had his hand in some of the minor details of the plot are awaiting trial. The eleventh man has not been apprehended as yet. He is in Greece.

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