COLUMBIA — A Columbia man offered an employee at his company $500 to burn down a trailer on land he wanted to buy, injuring the owner, who awoke to flames late Dec. 15 and was hurt when she crawled out her window , according to a probable cause statement filed Friday.
Mehrdad Fotoohighiam, 60, was arrested in connection with the arson after a seven-hour standoff that ended at 6:50 a.m. Sunday. He was being held in the Boone County Jail on a $5 million cash-only bond. Detective Steven Wilmoth of the Columbia Police Department said Fotoohighiam, who also goes by "Dr. Mike" and Mike Mehrdad, asked two of his employees to burn down the trailer, but only one went through with it. The employee, James Hall, has also been arrested.
At 10:53 p.m. on Dec. 15, firefighters of the Columbia Fire Department arrived at the Highland Estates Trailer Court on Rock Quarry Road to find a trailer in flames and a woman standing outside with singed hair, bleeding from her hands and with second-degree burns, according to the probable cause statement and a December press release from the Columbia Fire Department. Investigators ruled out accidental causes.
Seven days later, someone police identified as "J.W." told investigators that she knew James Hall set the fire, according to the probable cause statement. She said a few days before the fire, Hall told her that his boss, "Mike," had offered him $500 to burn the trailer, and she later saw Hall with an anti-freeze container full of gasoline that he said was meant for the trailer, according to the probable cause statement.
J.W. said on the night of the fire, Hall and a driver, David Reed, left Hall's home around 10 p.m. and returned about an hour later, according to the probable cause statement. "Hall smelled of gasoline and his eyebrows had been singed," she said, according to the statement. Wilmoth wrote that he found J.W.'s testimony credible because she knew where the fire started — near the trailer's backdoor — and that information hadn't been made public.
The day after the fire, Hall and J.W. were watching the news together when a story about the trailer fire came on. "Hall started to 'freak out' because 'Mike' had told him the mobile home was not occupied," J.W. told investigators according to the probable cause statement.
On Thursday, police spoke with someone identified as "S.C.", who said he and Hall occasionally cleaned and did other odd jobs for some of Fotoohighiam's mobile homes. They were cleaning a trailer Fotoohighiam owns — located near the victim's home — when he propositioned the two of them to commit arson for money, according to the probable cause statement.
Wilmoth wrote that the trailer's owner and Fotoohighiam had been "feuding" because he wanted to buy her trailer and the land it sits on.
Fotoohighiam, Wilmoth wrote, has a dual citizenship with the U.S. and Iran and owns a company called ETI. Fotoohighiam is "very financially wealthy," according to Wilmoth's statement. He also claims Fotoohighiam left the country for about eight years to avoid a civil lawsuit.
In April, police spoke with the victim, who said she still suffers from pain on her sternum from the fire and has memory loss and unclear thoughts from inhaling carbon monoxide .
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