Man charged with arson, insurance fraud

UNDERWOOD Robert Scott Sackman, 49, Bismarck, was charged Dec. 17 with arson and fraud in district court in McLean County.

Arson is a Class B felony charge and the charge of attempted fraudulent insurance act is a Class A misdemeanor. The charges stem from Sackman allegedly starting a fire in his restaurant on either Dec. 25 or 26, 2011, in order to collect the insurance money for the damages. The damages, not including the electrical work, amounted to $170,883.79.

At the time of the incident there was a $21,082 federal tax lien on his company, S & D, Inc. By the following September, the tax lien was assessed on his company at $7,453.80, in addition to a state tax lien valued at $23,770.66.

Sackman is the owner of T-Bones Steakhouse and Lounge in Underwood. The restaurant had previously been located in Fessenden before a fire in 2009 destroyed that location. In April 2010, though, Sackman obtained insurance coverage for the new restaurant and was concerned with having adequate coverage following the 2009 incident.

According to an investigation conducted by an agent of the North Dakota Insurance Department Fraud Unit, representatives of the insurance company had attempted to arrange a meeting with him regarding his coverage but no meetings worked out, although he did allegedly stop in to review his coverage limits in October 2011.

The night of the fire, McLean County Deputy Sheriff Sam Lincoln saw smoke billowing from the roof vents of the restaurant and found Sackman just outside of the establishment at 12:10 a.m. When he was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, police in the room with him allege that he smelled strongly of an accelerant like lighter fluid or kerosene. They took the hospital pillowcase and sheet in as evidence.

A forensic analysis of Sackman’s clothing and the hospital sheets by the North Dakota Crime Lab in Bismarck revealed gasoline.

Sackman also allegedly had two different stories he presented to officers during questioning. To one he said that he was working on a computer at a table near the bar of the restaurant when he became overcome by a thick black smoke, which would have been coming from the Christmas tree located in the bar.

To another investigator, Sackman said that he was in the office doing paperwork when he smelled the smoke. He then exited the office to a room full of the thick black smoke and a slippery floor, covered in cooking grease, which he fell into before exiting the building.

The Christmas tree, however, by all accounts, was well watered and would have been difficult to ignite without an accelerant, according to a fire marshal assessment. Cooking oil had also been spread all over the floor, but that type of oil, according to the report, is not highly flammable and would have needed to be super-heated to ignite.

Sackman had given two letters to the police addressed to “The Sackman Family” that he had allegedly received at his home. The letters, he felt, were threatening. He also claimed there were more of them but that the previous letters had been destroyed.

“I don’t know, I was in a hole and didn’t know how to come out of it,” is what Sackman allegedly told investigators with the Bismarck Police Department before he and his wife decided to retain a lawyer before speaking further on the issue, according to an affidavit filed with the court.