Man charged with threatening to set fildfires for revenge



MALIBU, Calif. (AP)—A convicted child molester was charged Monday with threatening to set wildfires in revenge for the seizure of his property, but prosecutors said they hadn’t linked him to recent arson firestorms.

Firefighters, meanwhile, stamped out hot spots in the 19,000-acre Malibu wildfire, and schools reopened for the first time since the blaze struck.

Thomas Lee Larsen, 43, was charged with one count of mailing a threat to damage or destroy by means of fire. The threat was in letters mailed to police agencies and homes.

Larsen, who was arrested Sunday, didn’t enter a plea at his arraignment Monday. A Nov. 23 hearing was set before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Turchin.

He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick refused a request to post bond for Larsen, saying he posed a danger to the community.

Larsen’s arraignment attorney, Phillip Bronson, asked for $100,000 bail secured by the equity in Larsen’s parents’ home. Bronson said Larsen lived with his parents and would not want to hurt them.

Larsen also applied for a court-appointed attorney.

U.S. Attorney Terree Bowers said prosecutors had not linked Larsen to any of the 26 Southern California wildfires that killed three people and destroyed more than 1,000 structures, mostly homes, during the past two weeks.

Nineteen of those fires were the result of arson, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The seven-page letter, signed ‘‘Fedbuster,’‘ was sent in August and September to about 35 law enforcement agencies and to Los Angeles County homes picked at random, according to court documents.

The writer threatened to set destructive fires when humidity was low and strong, dry Santa Ana winds were blowing—conditions that existed when wildfires first erupted Oct. 26 and when the Malibu fire began Nov. 2.

‘‘If I get no satisfaction by the time we get a real good volatile fire season you’ll really regret it you’ll see,’‘ the letter said. ‘‘They burned me now I’m going to burn back. I fight fire with fire.’‘

In an affidavit, FBI Special Agent Richard G. Palacios said Larsen had a criminal record dating to 1971 that included a conviction for child molestation and arrests for arson and counterfeiting.

Palacios said Larsen allegedly mailed the threatening letter because he apparently was angry over the 1977 seizure of a duplicator, camera equipment, a printer and a station wagon in connection with the counterfeiting investigation.

The ‘‘Fedbuster’‘ letter mentioned some of those items and said their seizure had disrupted the sender’s ‘‘hobby,’‘ Palacios said.

Palacios quoted Secret Service analyst Bill Issen as saying the vehicle was equipped with ‘‘various implements associated with child molesting, including a mattress, draw curtains, shaving cream and undergarments.’‘

The letter, which contains misspellings, says that ‘‘when they took my vehicle they screwed with my sex life to,’‘ Palacios said.

Larsen received a six-year prison term in 1987 for spraying hydrochloric acid on seven people and 500 cars while making deliveries for a hardware company.

He said at the time he went on the spree because he was angry about his treatment by the judicial system for violating parole on a conviction of lewd conduct with a 16-year-old boy.

Palacios said Bakersfield police were currently investigating Larsen in connection with vandalizing cars at dealerships, and Torrance police were investigating whether Larsen mailed letters, signed ‘‘Nightcrawler,’‘ threatening to poison baby food and meat.

Neighbor Keith Donner described Larsen as a loner.

‘‘You never saw him out of the house, you never saw him in the front yard, you never saw him anywhere,’‘ Donner said.

In Malibu and in the Santa Monica Mountains, firefighting forces dropped below 2,500 Monday as crews concentrated on isolated hot spots. About 6,000 firefighters battled the blaze at its peak.

The Malibu fire was contained on Sunday. The Red Cross said 390 Malibu residences were destroyed.

Public schools reopened, and at John L. Webster School, students were encouraged to share their fire experiences. Alena Ghastin, 6, stood up in front of her classmates and displayed a white mug.

‘‘When we went home to the house yesterday I found this cup,’‘ Alena said as she started to cry. The cup was about all that remained of her destroyed home.

Her teacher, Joan Kaczorowski, hugged her.

‘‘You know what?’‘ Mrs. Kaczorowski said. ‘‘The good news is you’re with us.’‘