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Trump supporter charged with faking politically motivated arson at own home

A Minnesota man was charged with wire fraud after he staged a politically motivated arson event at his home that, he falsely claimed, was because he supported Donald Trump, according to prosecutors. (Screenshot via YouTube/WCCO)
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When Denis Vladmirovich Molla told authorities that his camper was set on fire and his garage defaced, the Minnesota man said that whoever carried out the attack was motivated by the “Trump 2020” flag he had displayed from his vehicle. As pictures circulated of a vandalized garage door in September 2020 that was spray-painted with “Biden 2020,” “BLM” and an anarchy symbol, Molla collected thousands of dollars for the reported arson through his insurance company and online donations from sympathetic Trump supporters who denounced the politically motivated attack.

“It just shocked me,” Molla told WCCO hours after the incident. “This kind of stuff should not happen, especially over beliefs of some sort.”

But prosecutors have concluded almost two years later that Molla staged the entire incident.

Federal authorities announced Tuesday that Molla, 29, has been charged with two counts of wire fraud for filing fraudulent insurance claims and benefiting from online fundraisers connected to the faked arson event.

Prosecutors allege that Molla filed a claim with his insurance company for more than $300,000 and received about $61,000. He later accused his insurance company of “defrauding him.” Molla also used donations from his “Patriots for the Mollas” GoFundMe account for a deposit of more than $17,000 into his personal bank account, according to charging documents.

Shortly after the incident, Molla and his wife, Deana, had told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that they, along with their 2-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter, were asleep in the house when the camper was set ablaze. He had initially reported to authorities that someone set his camper on fire, and told local media he had seen three people running from his home.

“In reality, as Molla well knew, Molla started his own property on fire, Molla spray-painted the graffiti on his own property and there were no unknown males near his home,” prosecutors said in charging documents.

Molla, of Brooklyn Center, Minn., was released from custody without bail based on a promise that he would appear in court, according to court documents. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.

If he is indicted on one of the federal wire fraud charges, Molla could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

The announcement of the charges came the same day that the Jan. 6 committee held another hearing in which it attempted to tie former president Donald Trump to the most violent extremists leading the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee again pressed its argument that Trump knew what he was doing and should be held responsible. On Tuesday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) argued that Trump was, at the very least, “willfully blind” to the fact that his own advisers were telling him that he had lost the election to Joe Biden.

“President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child,” Cheney said. “Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices. … Donald Trump cannot escape responsibility by arguing he is willfully blind.”

5 takeaways from the Jan. 6 hearing on extremism and Trump

First responders arrived at the home in Brooklyn Center just after 3 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2020. The fire from the camper ended up burning down the detached garage, totaling three vehicles and inflicting minor damage on the home. Police said at the time that first responders helped retrieve three dogs and four puppies from the home, according to the Star Tribune.

“I heard just a big, loud boom, or a bang,” Molla told WCCO at the time. He said he recalled thinking, “What’s going on?”

The family told the CBS affiliate in 2020 that Molla, a contractor, got the flag about a week after he had a workplace dispute over his support of Trump. Molla, who claimed at the time that people had driven by the house slowly when he had the Trump flag up, told KARE last year that he saw three “figures” in his yard the night of the fire, and claimed that one of those people dropped a matchbox as he chased them away.

“Our family’s safe, that’s the main thing,” he told WCCO hours after the incident. “All this is material, it’s all material. It’s not as important as our family.”

That didn’t stop Molla from filing hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance claims, according to prosecutors. When his insurance company rejected some of his claims, Molla claimed he was being defrauded, and he threatened to report the alleged bad practice to the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D).

Molla’s case gained national attention. Two GoFundMe fundraisers in support of Molla were up for nearly two years. (They appeared to have been taken down Wednesday.) The story was promoted by conservative and right-leaning media, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

“This is a message being sent by the far left, and I think people are beginning to see that arsonist behavior, looting, even murder — none of it is off the table,” Ingraham said at the time.

Yet an investigation conducted by the FBI and the Brooklyn Center Police Department found that Molla, and not a person or group of people, was responsible for the arson and vandalism, authorities said.

It’s not the first time a Trump supporter has staged a fake incident and pinned it on someone else. In 2017, Stephen Marks admitted to spray-painting playground equipment at a Hartford elementary school in an effort to frame liberals and Democrats. Marks, who wrote phrases such as “Kill Trump,” “Left is the best,” “Bernie Sanders 2020” and “Death to Trump,” was charged with third-degree criminal mischief and breach of peace, and he was ordered to stay away from the school, the Hartford Courant reported at the time.

Amber Phillips contributed to this report.

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