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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

District of Colorado

For Immediate Release

October 25, 2011

John F. Walsh, United States Attorney

Contact: Jeff Dorschner, Spokesman, Public Affairs Officer
(303) 454-0243

Michael Anthony Penn Indicted for Starting Beaver Creek Fire

DENVER — Last month a federal grand jury in Denver returned a two count indictment charging Michael Anthony Penn, age 22, with setting timber afire and damaging property of the United States by fire, United States Attorney John Walsh and U.S. Forest Service Special Agent in Charge Laura Mark announced today. Penn was arrested in Las Vegas and then transported to Denver by the U.S. Marshals Service. He made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Denver yesterday, where he was advised of the charges pending against him, and the associated penalties. He was previously ordered held without bond during a detention hearing in Las Vegas. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Denver again on October 27, 2011 for arraignment.

According to the Indictment, on August 19, 2011 Penn did willfully and without authority set on fire timber, underbrush, grass and other inflammable material upon the public domain and lands owned by and under concurrent jurisdiction of the United States of America, specifically, located within the Pike National Forest. The indictment further states that the defendant did maliciously by means of fire damage and destroy real property owned and possessed by the United States, specifically, located within the Pike National Forest, and such conduct directly and proximately created a substantial risk of injury to others, including public safety officers performing their duties.

According to the affidavit in support of the Criminal Complaint, on Friday, August 19, 2011 a fire was discovered on National Forest Service System land near Colorado Springs, Colorado, approximately 500 yards northwest of the U.S. Air Force Academy. On that day, Forest Service law enforcement officers were notified of the fire and responded to the area. One officer observed a fire burning up-slope in vegetation North of the Air Force Academy. Specifically, the officer noticed that there were several columns of smoke to the south of the main fire area that appeared to be separate points of fire origin not associated with the main body of fire. Based on that observation, and other investigation, fire officials determined that it was probable that the fire did not occur naturally and was most probably human caused.

On August 20, 2011 firefighters noticed a suspicious vehicle near the fire scene, specifically a 1993 Toyota with a Georgia license plate. The car had been tagged by local law enforcement officers the day before as abandoned. During this general time frame Penn had been seen in the area by three separate and un–related witnesses. Later that day officials contacted Michael Anthony Penn who was responsible for the Toyota, which was registered to his girlfriend. Penn eventually attempted to evade law enforcement as they attempted to question him. He was eventually contacted. His clothing had multiple liquid–like stains, soot marks, and small burn holes. Penn’s hands were covered in black and liquid looking stains. The defendant made inconsistent statements to investigators. Wildland fire origin and cause investigators determined that there were in excess of twelve individual points of origin of fire set along the hillside in a north south line and at approximately the same contour level. The totality of the evidence led investigators to conclude that there was probable cause that Penn was responsible for the fires.

Wildfires are a very serious threat and investigating their cause is key to protecting our Public Lands, said U.S. Forest Service Special Agent in Charge, Laura Mark. This arrest would not have been possible without the hard work and collaborative efforts of investigators from the U.S. Forest Service and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

If convicted of setting timber afire the defendant faces not more than 5 years in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of damaging property of the United States by fire the defendant faces not less than 7 years, and not more than 40 years imprisonment, and a fine of up to $250,000. Penn could also be ordered to pay restitution.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The defendant is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Hearty, deputy chief of the Criminal Division.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.