DOJ Seal

Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Rhode Island

For Immediate Release

Friday, May 15, 2015
Peter F. Neronha
, United States Attorney
Contact: Jim Martin

Federal Jury Convicts Mastermind of Arson-for-Profit Scheme

Kormahyah Karmue Convicted of Orchestrating Arson Fire in Occupied Providence Tenement

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A federal court jury in Providence on Thursday convicted Kormahyah Karmue, 40, of Providence, of being the mastermind behind a conspiracy to set fire to an occupied multi-family dwelling he owned at 31-33 Ida Street in Providence in an effort to collect more than $725,000 in insurance payments.

The government’s evidence showed that on November 2, 2013, an individual working at the direction of Karmue and others, intentionally spread gasoline around a third floor apartment inside the Ida Street tenement. The gasoline was inadvertently ignited by a flame from a gas heater before the individual could strike a match. Several occupants in the building, including a family with five young children inside a second floor apartment, fled from the building.

The jury convicted Karmue of conspiracy to commit arson and three counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud, announced United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré and Daniel J. Kumor, Special Agent in Charge of the Boston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The jury acquitted Karmue of one count of arson.

Three co-defendants in this matter, Nakelee Freeman, 21, of Providence, Abraham Kerkula, 21, of Pawtucket and Gbabia Kollie, 28, of Johnson City, Tenn., previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson and arson. They are detained in federal custody and awaiting sentencing.

United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha commented, “This case demonstrates the lengths to which some will go in pursuit of their own greed. As a result of this defendant’s conduct, and the conduct of his co-defendants, several innocent people, including five children, could have easily lost their lives. Arson is an incredibly dangerous crime, and is often difficult to detect, particularly when, like here, those involved use a complicated scheme to conceal it. Accordingly, those who worked so hard to unravel the scheme – the Providence Fire Department, ATF, and the Assistant United States Attorneys handling the case - deserve tremendous credit.”

“This conviction is a testament to the strong partnership between the Providence Fire Department, ATF, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré. “It also sends a loud and clear message that arson, especially an arson-for-profit scheme, will not be tolerated in Providence. Those looking to profit from such a scheme will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I want to thank the Arson Squad and the ATF for running the investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for getting this conviction.”

“Arson is a crime of extreme violence that puts the lives of the public and first responders in grave danger,” commented ATF Boston Field Division Special Agent in Charge Daniel J. Kumor. “ATF is committed with our local, state and federal public safety partners to ensure our communities remain free from the dangerous acts arsonists commit and utilize all the necessary resources to bring these individuals to justice”.

According to the government’s evidence, beginning in early October 2013, Karmue communicated from Liberia with Kollie, convincing him to travel to Rhode Island to set fire to the Ida Street building in an effort to avoid foreclosure and to collect insurance payments. Karmue promised to pay Kollie between $15,000 and $30,000 for his role in the arson-for-profit scheme.

According to the government’s evidence, after arriving in Rhode Island in late October, Kollie changed his mind and decided that he would not set fire to the tenement and returned home to Tennessee.

After returning home, Kollie contacted a brother-in-law in Rhode Island, Nakelee Freemen, and enlisted his assistance to help to carry out the arson-for profit scheme in exchange for $7,500. On November 1, 2013, Freeman contacted Abraham Kerkula and asked him to drive him to a location where he, Freeman, was going to set fire to a building for “a lot of money.” Freeman and Kerkula traveled together to at least two retail outlets where Freeman purchased several items, including a five-gallon gasoline storage container, a one-gallon liquid storage container and gloves. They then traveled to a local supermarket where Freeman filled the larger storage container with gasoline.

According to the government’s evidence, in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013, Kerkula and Freeman drove to the target property. A surveillance camera attached to a nearby building captured images of the vehicle Kerkula was driving as it arrived at the targeted property, drove past the building, then returned and stopped in front of a driveway. Freeman can be seen in the video exiting the vehicle, removing the gasoline container and other items from the vehicle and then entering the property through a side door using keys the evidence showed that he and Kerkula retrieved earlier in the day.

According to the government’s evidence, once inside the building Freeman entered a third floor apartment where he spread gasoline on the floor of a bedroom which was being used for storage and in the kitchen. Before Freeman could finish spreading the gasoline and striking a match to ignite the fuel, the gasoline was ignited by a flame from a gas heater. Freeman fled the building to Kerkula’s vehicle which had moved to at a pre-determined location on a nearby side street. Once inside the vehicle Freeman stated to Kerkula that the fire had not gone as planned, and they fled the area.

Members of the Providence Fire Department’s Arson Squad, who responded to the Ida Street property shortly after Providence Fire Department firefighters, quickly determined that the fire likely was deliberately set.

As the Providence Fire Department, joined by investigators and agents from ATF, continued to investigate the cause of the fire and who was responsible, Karmue began communicating with his insurance carrier seeking payment for damages to the building and for relocation expenses. Over the course of the next several months Karmue was provided three insurance payments for relocation expenses. The building was insured for $725,583.

As a result of information developed by the Providence Fire Department’s Arson Squad and ATF, Freeman and Kerkula were arrested on federal criminal complaints on November 15, 2013, and ordered detained. Gbabia Kollie was removed from an outbound international flight leaving Atlanta for Liberia and arrested by ATF agents on a federal criminal complaint on December 5, 2013. He was returned to Rhode Island and ordered detained.

Karmue, who returned to the United States from Liberia within days of the fire being set, was arrested in Providence on May 27, 2014, and detained in federal custody. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith, who presided over the trial, on July 31, 2015.

Conspiracy to commit arson effecting commerce is punishable by statutory penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000; wire fraud is punishable by statutory penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000; mail fraud is punishable by statutory penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William J. Ferland and Richard B. Myrus.

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Field Division: Boston Field Division