Eighteen years ago, Martin Pang destroyed his parents’ Seattle warehouse and the lives of four firefighters’ families. Now police allege the notorious arsonist was trying to profit from that crime from inside prison walls with an elaborate identity theft scheme.
“It’s very narcissistic and outrageous and a complete insult to not only the firefighters but the community,” said Police Chief Jim Pugel at a Tuesday news conference.
Pugel outlined a brazen sophisticated plot that reads like a true crime novel-- Martin Pang put away for manslaughter, digs through the court files of his case, gathering the names and personal information of people who helped convict him, including witnesses, police and firefighters and sets out to steal their identities.
“His motives were both retaliation and greed,” Pugel said.
Working with an accomplice on the outside, named Charles McClain, police say Pang set up fraudulent accounts and planned to funnel money into off shore bank accounts. The two even set their sights on the Tulalip Casino where McClain once worked.
“Pang intended to set up a phony vendor account, several phony vendor accounts through the Casino and siphon off what he said would be millions,” Pugel said.
Acting on a tip from the Department of Corrections, Pugel said that an undercover Seattle detective was able to infiltrate the alleged plot, and tape conversations between Pang and his accomplice. When police searched Pang’s cell, they say they found a list of dozens of names and social security numbers, including 20 people tied to the warehouse fire. Pugel said the plot could have been carried out within days had Pang not been arrested.
Until the sting, Pang had been a model prisoner at the Twin Rivers Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex. He was scheduled for early release in 2018. Now police say it appears he had a plan to steal millions and move to Brazil upon his release, to live a life of luxury.
Pang fled to Brazil in 1995, as police targeted him as the prime suspect in the warehouse fire that killed four firefighters when the floor collapsed and they fell into a basement inferno. Pang was arrested in Rio de Janeiro, and following an extradition battle, brought back to Seattle to face charges. After first denying the crime, Pang admitted he’d torched his parents’ warehouse for the insurance money. Pang pled guilty to four counts of manslaughter and received a 35 year sentence.
Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean called Pang’s alleged identity theft scheme “incredulous.”
“Every time his name comes up, what it does is it reminds you of those four firefighters. I’ve had their picture up on my wall. I’m reminded of them over and over again,” Dean said.
The case is now in the hands of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office and charges are expected soon. If convicted, Pang could lose the ten years being shaved off his 35 year sentence for good behavior in prison and could receive an additional five to seven year sentence.