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CFO and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Announce Arrests in ‘Operation Christmas Tree’

5/21/2013

Contact: Deborah Jamison
(850) 413-2842 
 
TALLAHASSEE – Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives today announced multiple arrests in “Operation Christmas Tree,” an investigation into a series of residential structure fires in Marion County. The investigation resulted in the arrest of five individuals charged with organized fraud, arson and burning to defraud the insurer. 
 
“Last year alone, arson cost Floridians more than $69 million in property damage and endangered the lives of honest, hard-working individuals,” CFO Atwater said. “I am proud of the diligent, collaborative efforts across state and local law enforcement. Our efforts together led to the arrests of these criminals.”
 
"We are elated over the outcome of this investigation and proud of our agency partnerships in Operation Christmas Tree," said Sheriff Blair.
 
The investigation revealed that three fires in Marion County had been intentially set and fraudulent insurance claims filed associated with these fires. Further information revealed that the scheme to defraud was orchestrated by Rocky Edward Williams, Sr, who provided counsel and funding to the occupants for the scheme. Additional residential structure fires may be related to the scheme and the investigation into these fires continues.
 
Anyone with information regarding any incidents of suspected arson is asked to call 877-No-Arson (877-662-7766) or visit http://www.facap.org/ReportArson.cfm. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous. A reward of up to $5,000 may be paid by the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention for a tip that leads directly to an arrest and conviction.
 
Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, a statewide elected official, oversees the Department of Financial Services.  CFO Atwater’s priorities include fighting financial fraud, abuse and waste in government; reducing government spending and regulatory burdens that chase away businesses; and providing transparency and accountability in spending