News and Press Releases

Georgia Man Sentenced Five Years for Arson and Fraud in Gardendale Church Fires

January 27, 2011

BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge today sentenced a Georgia man to five years in prison for mail fraud and arson in connection to two fires at Gardendale First Baptist Church in April, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, ATF Special Agent in Charge Glenn Anderson and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Roy Sexton.

U.S. District Judge Inge P. Johnson sentenced DONNY RAY HORTON JR. on two counts of arson and one count of mail fraud. The judge ordered him to pay $340,629 in restitution, and to forfeit $78,769 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity.

HORTON, 46, of Hoschton, Ga., pleaded guilty to the arsons and mail fraud in September.

“Prison is well deserved in this case, where twice this defendant set fire to a place of worship to try to cover his initial crime of defrauding the church of $78,769,” Vance said. “Thanks to solid and collaborative police work by the Gardendale Police Department, the Alabama State Fire Marshal, the ATF and the Secret Service, he didn’t get away with either crime.”

“HORTON’s persistence to choose arson as a way to cover up his financial misdeeds was a foolish and dangerous plan. He now faces federal prison for several years,” Anderson said. “It is very fortunate that he did not injure or kill someone, including himself, when he torched the church twice. ATF and our law enforcement partners will continue to fully investigate any attack on a house of worship, prosecute those responsible and ensure the community is safe,” Anderson said.

According to HORTON’s plea agreement and other court records, his fraud and arsons occurred as follows:

HORTON fraudulently took $78,769 from Gardendale First Baptist Church as a deposit for seating in the sanctuary it was building, then twice set fire to the building to delay installation of the 2,600 seats he never ordered. HORTON falsely represented to the church that he had placed the order with Ohio-based Sauder Manufacturing. That misrepresentation caused the church to send the deposit payment by express delivery to HORTON’s home address in Georgia, where he received and later spent the money.

As an independent representative of Sauder Manufacturing, HORTON had secured the church’s sanctuary seating order in March 2009, but never forwarded it to the manufacturer. To delay the scheduled seating installation in early April 2010, he traveled from Georgia on April 3, 2010, and set fire to the sanctuary, causing about $110,234 in damage.

The installation was rescheduled for April 30, 2010, and HORTON again set fire to the sanctuary, causing about $118,270 in damage.

In accordance with HORTON’s plea agreement, the court ordered him to pay the $340,629 restitution as follows: $181,060 to Great American Insurance Company, which insured Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractor on the church construction; $2,536 to Acton Flooring and $157,031 to Sauder Manufacturing.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Secret Service, Gardendale Police and the Alabama State Fire Marshal investigated the case. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Davis A. Barlow.



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