A pair of Delaware County brothers were indicted on federal charges when authorities discovered that the pair set fire to their restaurant after buying a $750,000 fire insurance policy only two weeks prior to the blaze, officials announced.
Imad Dawara, 40, of Swarthmore, and Bahaa Dawara, 32, of Woodlyn, admitted to planning and causing the arson of their business, RCL Management LLC in Philadelphia a little more than three years ago on February 18, 2018, and to evading the assessment of their income tax liabilities from 2015 to 2017, Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said Thursday.
The brothers owned and operated various restaurants and entertainment establishments in Philadelphia, including a restaurant and hookah lounge at 239-241 Chestnut Street, from around December 2012 until February 18, 2018, Williams said.
The pair were financially struggling with their Chestnut Street business and had a years-long history of fighting with their landlord, the indictment says.
By October 2017, the brothers had ceased all business operations at the Chestnut Street location and attempted to sell the business, but did not receive any offers as they had failed to renew their lease or pay rent, Williams said.
On January 31, 2018, the landlord told the pair to vacate the premises by February 2, 2018, and advised them that they owed over $64,000 in overdue payments, Williams said.
Nonetheless, the pair failed to leave the property and bought a $750,000 insurance policy providing coverage in the event of an accidental fire, Williams said.
A fire was intentionally started with gasoline in the basement of the restaurant which destroyed the entire building, displaced approximately 160 people, closed the 200 block of Chestnut Street for months, and closed numerous businesses on Feb. 18, Williams said.
Imad Dawara also admitted to fraud in connection with his receipt of health care and other government benefits including Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF, Williams said.
“Just over three years ago, the fire on Chestnut Street permanently altered many people’s lives, some losing their homes and livelihoods,” Williams said.
“If not for the heroism of the Philadelphia Fire Department, the devastation from that night would have been unthinkable and much more extensive. Even though many victims of this fire can never be made completely whole, I hope that today’s admission of guilt by the defendants gives these individuals and the City of Philadelphia at large some sense of relief and justice.”
“Arson for profit or any other reason is a serious crime of violence that will not be tolerated,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division.
“ATF’s partnership with the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department, whose work was instrumental in the success of this investigation, will continue to ensure the safety of our communities. I would like to thank the United States Attorney’s Office for their diligent work in prosecuting this case.”
“Schemes designed to evade income tax, such as those perpetrated by the Dawara brothers, are unfair to every taxpayer who obeys the law and pays his or her fair share,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Thomas Fattorusso.
“The Dawara brothers set out to cheat and steal from the American public and the government. Their admission of guilt today is a victory for all Americans who play by the rules.”
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Fire Marshal, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Office of the Inspector General, with assistance from the Philadelphia Parking Authority Taxi and Limousine Division.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jeanine Linehan and Katherine E. Driscoll.
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