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Pinellas County Man Arrested for Arson and Animal Cruelty

6/22/2016


GULFPORT, Fla. – The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of State Fire Marshal today announced the recent arrest of 51-year-old Thomas L Bennett Jr. on charges of first-degree arson and multiple counts of animal cruelty following a Gulfport fire that occurred June 3, 2016, in Pinellas County. A fire scene investigation revealed that Bennett allegedly intentionally set a Gulfport home on fire following a domestic dispute between himself and another resident of the Gulfport home.
 
In the early afternoon hours of June 3, the Gulfport Police Department and Gulfport Fire Department requested the assistance of the State Fire Marshal to determine the cause and origin of a fire that occurred at 6124 10th Ave. S. Gulfport in Pinellas County.
 
The State Fire Marshal’s investigation revealed that following a dispute with a female resident of the home, Bennett allegedly doused multiple areas in the home’s garage with gasoline and lighter fluid and then ignited the saturated areas causing the garage to go up in flames. Bennett then continued into the living room area of the home where he attempted to ignite the home’s carpet and multiple pieces of furniture on fire using a propane blow torch.
 
The fire spread throughout the home and caused severe damage to the occupied residence resulting in at least $80,000 worth of damages while killing 10 large exotic birds and two domestic house cats. 
 
Bennett was arrested June 21, 2016, and was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail with a bond of $50,000. He has been charged with one count of first degree arson and 12 counts of animal cruelty.
 
Investigators with the Gulfport Police Department played a vital role throughout this investigation. This case will be prosecuted by the office of Assistant State Attorney Elizabeth Zuroweste of the 6th Judicial Circuit. If convicted, Bennett faces up to 25 years in prison.
 
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Chief Financial Officer 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. Follow the activities of the Department on Facebook (FLDFS) and Twitter (@FLDFS).