Jacksonville Retired Marine Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison Relating to Arson of Multiple Buildings in Downtown Kinston
Raleigh - United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced that today in federal court Chief United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle sentenced WILLIAM SHAWN ELLIOT, 55, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, to serve 20 years in federal prison on charges of Arson and Making False Statements to Influence a Bank on a Loan. The Court also ordered that ELLIOT serve 5 years of supervised release, and make restitution in the amount of $921,541.89, to the victims of his offense.
The Second Superseding Indictment and the evidence presented at trial showed that in the mid-2000s, ELLIOT, a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, began to acquire several properties in Eastern North Carolina as part of a real estate rental and resale business. The evidence at trial showed that between 2009 and 2012, ELLIOT became financially over-extended after he attempted to self-finance the construction of a duplex and house in Jacksonville. The evidence showed that in the midst of the financial struggle, ELLIOT submitted false tax returns to a bank in an effort to secure a construction loan. After failing to obtain enough money to pay his construction contractor, the evidence showed that ELLIOT was sued by his construction contractor.
The evidence at trial showed that within a few weeks of being sued, ELLIOT’s building, located at 119-128 East Gordon Street in downtown Kinston, burned to the ground. At the time of the burning, ELLIOT was renting the building to a victim, who was sleeping inside, but made it out alive. The investigation showed that ELLIOT had purchased the property for a mere $65,000, but had insured the property with The Hartford for around $500,000. ELLIOT filed a claim with The Hartford shortly after the fire. In addition to ELLIOT’S building burning under suspicious circumstances, multiple other buildings in the area were also burned including the Kinston law office of Gerrans, Foster & Sargeant, P.A., which was destroyed.
The investigation into the offense revealed that the fire in ELLIOT’s building was intentionally set using diesel fuel dispersed on the second floor of the building, an area to which only ELLIOT had access. Notably, however, the fires at an adjacent building, the Gerrans law office, and a building across the street, were started with Molotov cocktails. Video surveillance was eventually recovered showing ELLIOT’s white SUV arrive at the scene of the fires, and depart just moments before the arrival of first responders. Witnesses also reported seeing a man crouched in a nearby alleyway near where authorities recovered a gasoline soaked glove containing the DNA of ELLIOT and another individual. A matching glove was later recovered from ELLIOT’s SUV. ELLIOT was interviewed by law enforcement, where he made recorded admissions that he was “trying to downsize,” and that he was “going to pay” the person who helped him commit the arsons.
The Government indicted ELLLIOT and an alleged accomplice on multiple counts relating to the burning of the buildings, as well as making false statements to a bank, and wire fraud relating to the filing of the insurance claim. ELLIOT and his alleged accomplice went to trial on the charges in Elizabeth City in July of 2018. At trial, ELLIOT testified in his own defense, pointing jurors to his military record and claiming that he only made the admissions to law enforcement because of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While the jury convicted ELLIOT of Making False Statements to Influence a Bank on a Loan, the jury hung on all other counts against him, and the Court declared a mistrial.
Prior to retrial, ELLIOT entered a plea of guilty to the arson of his own building, and agreed to make restitution to all other arson victims. Nevertheless, during the sentencing hearing today, ELLIOT told the court that he did not in fact commit the arsons. Ultimately, the Court rejected ELLIOT’s efforts to receive a lower sentence based upon his military service, and upwardly departed from the United States Sentencing Guidelines, to a sentence of 20 years in prison. As part of the Court’s explanation of the sentence, the Court noted the defendant’s perjury at trial, and his lack of contrition at the sentencing.
Investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Kinston Department of Public Safety, with the assistance of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys William M. Gilmore and Melissa B. Kessler represented the United States.