U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Western District of Virginia
For Immediate Release
October 22, 2009
Timothy J. Heaphy, United States Attorney
Contact: Brian McFinn
(540) 857-2179 (fax)
Three Indicted For Arson
Aaron Woods, Shawn Combow And Melissa Combow are Accused Of Committing Arson
ROANOKE, VIRGINIA — A husband, wife and a family friend have been indicted by a federal grand jury for plotting and carrying out the arson of the couple’s Vinton, Va. home as a way to collect on the couple’s homeowner insurance policy.
The grand jury has charged Aaron Eugene Woods, 49, Melissa Combow, 40 and Shawn Combow, 45, all residents of Vinton, each with one count of using fire to commit a felony, one count of causing malicious damage to a building using fire, one count of conspiracy to commit arson, one count of conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
According to an indictment returned today in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, Shawn and Melissa Combow lived at 1333 Hardy Road, Vinton, VA, a home that was owned by Mr. Combow’s mother but over which he had power of attorney.
The indictment alleges that between September 2008 and December 2008, Shawn and Melissa Combow told Woods that the home, which was insured by Allstate Insurance Co., was in need of extensive repairs and over $4,000 in real estate taxes were owed to Roanoke County. These discussions led to the forming of a plan to set fire to the residence in order to collect insurance money. It was decided that Woods would receive $5,000 from the insurance settlement, with the remaining money going to Shawn and Melissa Combow.
In December, the three decided that Shawn and Melissa Combow would leave town and Woods would burn the house down while the couple was gone. Reservations for Shawn and Melissa Combow were made at a Virginia Beach, Va. hotel for the nights of December 26 and 27. The couple left town on December 26, the next night, Woods removed a newer model washer and dryer, a coffee table and an end table from the couple’s residence as a down payment for the arson. These items were later found at Woods’ residence.
According to the indictment, late in the evening of December 27, 2008, Woods drove to 1333 Hardy Road and set fire to the Combow’s residence using gasoline left for him by Shawn Thomas Combow. Three days later, Shawn Combow began filing for insurance benefits for the burned residence and its contents via the United States Mail and interstate wire communication systems such as telephone and facsimile.
Each defendant faces a minimum term of incarceration of 10 years for the use of fire to commit a felony charge, a minimum term of incarceration of 5 years and up to 20 years for the malicious damage caused by fire (arson) count, up to 20 years incarceration for the conspiracy to commit arson count, up to 5 years for the conspiracy count, and up to 20 years for each wire and mail fraud count.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives VIPER Task Force, the Vinton Police Department, and the Roanoke County Fire Marshall. Assistant United States Attorney Jennie L.M. Waering will prosecute the case for the United States.
A Grand Jury indictment is only a charge and not evidence of guilt. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial with the burden on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.