A Philadelphia pastor is facing charges after he allegedly set fire to his own car and lied to an insurance company.
On March 20, 2013, police received a call about a car on fire on the 2700 block of Emerald Street.
Officers arriving at the scene discovered a 2004 Nissan Quest fully engulfed in flames under the Conrail railroad tracks.
Using the VIN number, officers were able to contact the owner, 57-year-old Teofilo Santiago, who reported that the vehicle had been parked in front of his house on the 1800 block of N 6th Street around 9:10 p.m. and that he was unaware it was missing.
The following day, Santiago contacted Nationwide Insurance and reported his vehicle had been stolen and recovered by police as a burnt shell. He described the car as being in sound mechanical condition with no prior damage, and said he had two sets of keys to the car which were in his possession at the time of the alleged theft. Santiago also identified himself as a pastor at a local Pentecostal church.
The Nissan was examined by the Fire Marshall’s Office, which determined the fire originated in the passenger’s compartment when an open flame had been applied to combustible material. The fire was determined to be arson.
Santiago’s Nissan also had an electronic anti-theft system, and an examination of that system as well as the ignition, lock and start switch revealed no evidence of force or manipulation. It also determined that the key with the correct transponder code was used to operate the Nissan.
Nationwide determined that Santiago’s Nissan was valued at $7,547, and the damage to the car from the fire far exceeded its value, making the vehicle a total loss. At the time of the fire and alleged theft, Santiago owed a balance of $4,700 to his lien holder on the Nissan.
In April, Santiago met with a Nationwide Investigator and insisted that the car had been stolen and had been in perfect condition before it was stolen.
When Santiago was presented with the results of the investigation, he withdrew his stolen auto claim with Nationwide and admitted the Nissan was in poor mechanical condition and needed expensive repairs. He also admitted that he had conspired with another person to destroy the vehicle, report it stolen and collect the insurance.
Santiago was arrested and is now facing charges of Arson, Insurance Fraud, Attempted Theft by Deception, Conspiracy and Causing or Risking a Catastrophe.