A Baton Rouge man is accused of purposely setting fire to his new restaurant on Jones Creek Road in March 2017 and fraudulently collecting insurance money on the destroyed building, according to the Louisiana State Fire Marshal.
Jonathan Paul Marino, 36, was arrested Wednesday after a months-long investigation. He is alleged to have purposely torched The Cast Iron Kitchen, destroying that restaurant, damaging other nearby businesses and injuring a St. George firefighter, said State Fire Marshal Chief Deputy Brant Thompson.
Officials also believe Marino attempted to commit arson three other times on another restaurant he owned in Prairieville before it actually burned down in 2015. Investigators are also looking into other incidents in which Marino might have purposely damaged his property to collect insurance money, Thompson said.
"It's very clear (Marino) was in a financial bind over the years and we believe that is, in fact, what motivated him to set these fires," Thompson said.
Thompson would not say how Marino started the fire at The Cast Iron Kitchen.
A fire left heavy damage inside The Cast Iron Kitchen, a new restaurant at 5441 Jones Creek Road, and sent one firefighter to the hospital wit…
Marino has made a number of insurance claims in the past few years, and has collected more than $227,000 on three separate losses, Thompson said. Marino has already collected fraudulently $12,000 in partial insurance payments from The Cast Iron Kitchen fire, Thompson said.
After the March fire, someone in the Marino family started a Go Fund Me webpage to raise money for their recovery. The goal for fundraising was listed at $5,000 but only $440 was raised, according to the website.
Marino had also collected $145,000 after his Prairieville restaurant, The Italian Bowl, burned down in 2015, Thompson said. That fire was ruled a grease fire by local officials, though Thompson said they are continuing to investigate if Marino was involved in it.
Investigators also learned that Marino attempted on three previous occasions to torch The Italian Bowl in order to collect insurance money, Thompson said.
Marino also collected $70,000 in insurance money after the interior of his home flooded, though he told investigators it was an accident, Thompson said.
Marino has not been linked criminally to the house flood or to the Prairieville restaurant fire, but Thompson said both incidents remain under investigation.
"The fact of the matter is the consumer foots the bill for insurance fraud such as this," Thompson said. "It impacts everyone. … We pay for it."
Video surveillance from the March 2017 fire shows smoke coming from the The Cast Iron Kitchen, which was closed, minutes after Marino left the building, Thompson said. While combing through other video from the area, investigators also saw Marino stealing assorted grocery items from an area Walmart shortly before the fire.
While firefighters were inside battling the flames, the restaurant's roof collapsed, injuring a St. George Fire Department firefighter, Thompson said. That firefighter went to the hospital for treatment of the injury.
Marino, of 14310 Meadow Ridge Drive, was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on a count of arson with intent to defraud, injury by arson, and one count of theft. He will also be booked in Ascension Parish on three counts of attempted arson with the intent to defraud.