Man Charged in Arsons of Arizona Homes

From Associated Press

A man was arrested Thursday and indicted on arson and extortion charges stemming from a series of fires that destroyed luxury homes under construction near desert mountain preserves in the Phoenix area, a federal official said.

The 22-count federal indictment accuses Mark Warren Sands of setting eight fires at homes in Phoenix and suburban Scottsdale between April 9, 2000, and Jan. 18, 2001, said U.S. Atty. Paul Charlton.

Sands had previously been arrested in late April as an investigative lead in the arsons after authorities said they caught him scrawling the letters "CSP" on a sign in front of a home under construction near the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. He was later released because prosecutors did not meet a deadline for filing charges after his arrest.

"CSP" is said to stand for "Coalition to Save the Preserves." The acronym was found in notes at some of the arson sites and in letters sent to news media.

There was no answer at Sands' home, and a message left by Associated Press on his wife's cellular phone was not immediately returned.

There was no answer at the office of Sands' attorney.

Since 1998, 11 fires at upscale homes under construction near mountain recreation areas have been attributed to arson.

Nine were near the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, a scenic stretch of mountains running through the middle of Phoenix; two were next to a mountain preserve in suburban Scottsdale.

The last fire occurred in mid-January.

Notes protesting development in the scenic desert were left after some of the fires. Scrawled across a sign in April 2000 was: "If you build it again, we will burn it again." After an October fire, a typed letter was left at the scene with warnings against building in the desert.

Officials were not commenting Thursday on a possible motive for the fires that Sands is accused of setting.

This week in Tucson, four partly built luxury homes were burned, and investigators were seeking possible links to the Phoenix fires. The Tucson homes were also in a scenic area.

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