Until a few months ago, Martin Pang had been quietly serving his 35-year sentence for burning down his parent’s frozen food warehouse in Seattle -- a fire that killed four Seattle firefighters and outraged an entire community.
But in June, police paid Pang a visit at the Twin Rivers Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex to discuss a letter he’d written to prison authorities.
Pang had written the letter to the prison's Intelligence and Investigations Unit on June 6, after he landed in disciplinary segregation. Pang knew he was under investigation for possibly committing new crimes, and police sources say he was probably trying to get ahead of what was coming.
“If this investigation is connected with the project I have been setting up, the last few months, you do not have the full picture,” Pang wrote, “It would be in everyone’s best interest if we met to discuss this.”
On June 10, two Seattle Police detectives met with Pang and listened to an elaborate story: That for months Pang had been trying to bring down an identity theft operation that involved an inmate who was an expert in cyber crimes and an accomplice on the outside.
[Read the entire transcript of the meeting.]
In audio tapes of the interview, which KING 5 obtained through public records disclosure, Pang can be heard explaining his motive: “I mean these people need to be taken off the streets; that was my goal that was my plan.”
Pang said first he had to gain the inmate’s trust.
“I don't agree with what he does,” Pang told the detectives, “But I'm always fascinated by how people commit crimes….And I'll ask questions. Like law, I want to know the bits and pieces of it; I'll say well how does that work?”
Pang said the inmate demanded Social Security numbers or he was going to cut him out the operation.
"And I said, 'You know what. I think I've got Social Security numbers for at least the firefighters.' Cause I wanted him (the inmate) back in. And of course, I didn't. And he goes, 'Oh, yeah, well yeah, that's what we need.'"
Pang said to further set the hook, he connected the inmate to a man on the outside, Charles "Chuck" McClain, III, of Arlington, who was Pang’s former business partner.
Pang said he made it clear to both men that he wasn’t out to profit personally.
“I didn't want anything, okay. That's what I told them, I said, 'I don't want anything. I'm just hooking you guys up; I'm just going to help you guys out.”
Pang told the detectives that he was on the verge of handing over his evidence to police when the plot was discovered. He said his motive was revenge against two people he hated.
"I don’t need any money .... And this was vengeance on my part because my fiancée’s ID was stolen, alright, and Chuck (McClain) ripped me off."
After first playing along, the detectives made it clear they believe Pang and McClain were in on it together.
Pang tries to persuade them that they’ve got it wrong: “From what you’re saying, I would be doing this as a conspiracy to commit cyber crime for money. I don’t have sympathies for McClain, I hate McClain.”
The detectives tell Pang things will go better for him later if he cooperates now but he sticks to his story and they threaten to walk out:
DETECTIVE: "Just to let you know, I'm getting really close to standing up."
PANG: "Well, I, that's fine. All right, listen...My intention was revenge, it wasn't greed."
Pang continues to insist that he was setting up the whole thing for revenge against McClain and the inmate.
"You do not have to believe me, and I know that you do not. I can see it, but I am not lying,” he said.
Two weeks after the interview at the Monroe prison, Seattle Police held a news conference announcing they’d caught Martin Pang in a fraud scheme targeting firefighters and other witnesses in his old arson case.
“Pang’s motives were both retaliation and greed,” said Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel.
Pugel said Pang and McClain planned to set up credit accounts in the names of firefighters, police officers, and witnesses involved in his 1995 conviction for manslaughter and funnel money from those accounts into offshore bank accounts.
Police say before Pang and McClain went through with their plan an undercover detective was able to infiltrate their crime ring.
Police said that McClain gave the detective checks, Social Security information and the IDs of planned fraud targets. Police said Pang provided them with the names of social security numbers of key witnesses in his 1995 case.
“He wanted to make a bunch of money and already had their information from court documents,” said Detective Todd Jakobsen.
“It’s very narcissistic and outrageous and a complete insult to not only the firefighters but the community,” said Pugel.
KING 5 was unable to reach Pang in prison for comment.
At an interview outside his home in Arlington, Charles McClain said that he’s done nothing wrong and he thinks Martin Pang would only say bad things about him to avoid getting convicted of a new crime. McClain said he considers what happened to be police entrapment.
Charges have not been filed against either McClain or Pang. The case is still in the hands of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office.