FOUR men involved in an elaborate ploy to stage a robbery and set fire to an historic Albany hotel so that its licensee could lodge a million dollar insurance claim have been jailed.
Scott Jon Gay, 35, Christopher Lyndon Paterson, 30, Aaron Mark Hasson, 35, and Karl Hutchinson, 31, were sentenced in the Supreme Court today over the arson attack which caused $1.5 million in damage to the 125-year-old building in May last year.
In sentencing, Justice Gail Archer said the hotel’s licensee Graeme Roderick Cooper contacted Gay, a childhood friend, in the days before the fire, complaining that his business was struggling, and asked if he knew anybody who could “do an insurance job”.
He told Gay he needed the hotel burnt “to the extent that he would not be able to run it anymore”.
Gay recruited Paterson, telling him he would be paid $10,000 for the job, with Hutchinson and Hasson also later being enlisted.
Hutchinson drove the trio from Mandurah to Albany and parked the car in a laneway at the rear of the premises while Paterson and Hasson entered the hotel and staged the robbery.
“Paterson and Hasson staged dragging Cooper into the Premier Hotel to the office, where Cooper deactivated the CCTV,” Justice Archer said.
Then, Mr Cooper and Paterson began lighting fires throughout the building while Hasson kept a lookout, with investigators finding there were two distinct “fire seats” found in the hotel’s office and restaurant.
Mr Cooper then handed thousands of dollars to Paterson to make it look as though he had been robbed.
As the hotel went up in flames and the men fled, three men were in the hotel’s upstairs rooms and a woman was sleeping in an adjacent building.
Justice Archer said lives were significantly put at risk.
“There were three residents upstairs in their rooms, two of whom were asleep, and there was another resident across the car park,” she said.
“The hotel was located in a built up area and there was a risk to adjacent buildings and any people in those buildings.”
Justice Archer added the owner of the building had suffered financially and had to deal with the community’s perception that he was responsible for the attempted scam.
Sentencing Gay to five years behind bars, Justice Archer said she accepted he was initially driven by a desire to help his friend, but said “any emotional responsibility and sympathy” he felt had “plenty of time to cool down”.
“Instead, you facilitated this crime over a period of more than a week,” she said.
Justice Archer said she was “sceptical” of Gay’s claim that his only reward for organising the fire was “a couple of steaks” and a few hundred dollars from Paterson.
Paterson, who was paid $4000 for his part in the scheme, was a heavy drug user and was motivated by his need to pay off a drug debt.
Sentencing him to five years and four months jail, Justice Archer found that his role was “extremely significant”.
Hasson was sentenced to four years and four months jail while Hutchinson was jailed for three years and 10 months.
All four men were made eligible for parole.
Mr Cooper, who has pleaded not guilty to attempted fraud and criminal damage by fire, is due back in court next month.