Cape auto dealer gets 15 years

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An automobile dealer convicted of burning down his business for the insurance money was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey imposed the mandatory minimum sentence on Greg Sparkman, 46, in a packed Cape Girardeau courtroom Tuesday morning.

For Sparkman's family, the entire experience from conviction to Tuesday's sentencing has been almost surreal.

"I keep saying the same thing, even from the trial, I never dreamed he wouldn't come home," said the defendant's wife, Lisa Sparkman.

Her husband has been jailed since Oct. 14, when a jury convicted him of arson, using fire to commit fraud and 13 counts of mail fraud. Sparkman was charged with setting the December 2000 fire at West Park Motors Inc.

Assistant federal prosecutor Mike Price said he was satisfied with the sentence.

"Arson is a very serious crime, and as the result of that a lot of money is lost by businesses, and police and fire officers were put at risk," he said. No serious injuries resulted from the fire.

According to Price, Sparkman must serve 85 percent of his prison sentence, which is nearly 13 years. He will receive credit for term served since incarcerated in October.

Sparkman's attorney requested he serve the time at a nearby federal peniteniary, such as in Marion, Ill., and the decision was handed over for the federal Bureau of Prisons to make, Price said.

When his sentence is completed, Sparkman will be placed on supervised release for two years.

In addition to the prison sentence, Sparkman was ordered to pay $89,733.46 in restitution to the victim, Safeco Insurance Co., formerly American States Insurance Companies. He must also pay a $100 special assessment fee for each count, a total of $1,500.

Sparkman is accused of setting fire to a 1997 Dodge van, a 1998 GMC Yukon and his dealership office on Dec. 12, 2000. Investigators found no forced entry into either the office or a safe that was reported stolen and later found near the burned vehicles.

Sparkman's supporters claim the government's key witness, Scott Smith, lied when he testified that he accompanied Sparkman when the defendant set fire to the vehicles. In exchange for his testimony, Smith was released early from a federal prison sentence for making methamphetamine.

While Sparkman does not deny being with Smith, a former employee, he claims the two were painting a bannister.

"For $89,000 we could have went to the bank and borrowed the money. ... The whole thing just makes no sense whatsoever," the defendant's wife said after the sentencing.

Lisa Sparkman, who called the whole ordeal a "terrible, reoccurring nightmare," said her husband will file an appeal.

"I'm not going to stop fighting," she said. "I know Greg is innocent. Greg knows that he's innocent."

kmorrison@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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