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Fingerprints from frosted dessert lead to conviction in 2018 fire at The Refuge

According to court records, after an extensive investigation, the man eventually admitted to the arson. He told authorities that he and another man entered The Refuge, a religious organization, that evening to start the fire using gasoline.

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The coffee house area of The Refuge was heavily damaged in the fire.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune
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An Elk River man has been convicted of setting the fire that seriously damaged The Refuge building in Detroit Lakes on Sept. 22, 2018.

On June 14, following a two-day jury trial, a Becker County District Court jury convicted Gary John Bogatz Jr., 41, of felony first-degree arson, according to Becker County Attorney Brian McDonald.

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The scene outside The Refuge the day after the fire.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune

The fire at The Refuge led to an insurance payout of over $500,000.

Bogatz was found not guilty on a second felony count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

According to court records, after an extensive investigation, Bogatz eventually admitted to the arson. He told authorities that he and another man entered The Refuge, a religious organization, that evening to start the fire using gasoline.

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Gary John Bogatz Jr..jpg
Gary John Bogatz Jr.
Contributed/Becker County Jail

Bogatz said that a few days prior to the fire, he was asked by an identified Refuge board member and another identified individual also with connections to The Refuge to start the fire.

On Sept. 18, 2018, the two individuals brought Bogatz into an office at The Refuge and told him how The Refuge would have to be shut down unless “something happened.”

Both individuals asked Bogatz for help. The individuals told him they have “a lot of fire insurance” on the building. Bogatz said he was instructed to make it look like a burglary and to burn the place down.

He said entry was made by him kicking in the back door, and that another person was with him who ignited the fire. Lawn mower gas was used to accelerate the fire.

Investigators were led to Bogatz because he had eaten a frosted dessert bar from the fridge at the Refuge prior to setting the fire, gotten frosting on his fingers, then opened a back door, leaving a frosted fingerprint on the door handle.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension analyzed the fingerprint recovered from the rear door-handle and matched the fingerprint to Bogatz.

The charges were the result of an investigation led by Special Agent Steve Kritzeck of the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau, the Detroit Lakes Police Department, and Deputy State Fire Marshal Andrea Bexell. The case was prosecuted by Braden Sczepanski, first assistant Becker County Attorney.

On June 14, Becker County District Judge Michael Fritz ordered Bogatz held pending sentencing, which is set for July 13 in Becker County District Court.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTS
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