US: Former owner of gay nightclub accused of setting it on fire
The former owner of a Chicago-based gay nightclub was arrested recently charged with two counts of arson, after he allegedly scrawled anti-gay messages inside the club before dousing the building with alcohol and setting fire to it.
26-year-old Frank Elliott was the owner of the Velvet Rope Ultra Lounge in Oak Park when it burned in an early morning fire last year in June.
On Friday, Mr Elliot was charged with two counts of arson and one count of insurance fraud after it was alleged that he and a friend purposefully set fire to the building.
Prosecutors said the two went to a liquor store beforehand and bought several bottles of Everclear alcohol which they used to douse the building while spray-painting anti-gay slurs on the walls.
Mr Eliot then proceeded to file a $150,000 (£94,000) insurance claim after the fire had taken place.
The Chicago Tribune reports that advocates for the gay community had previously raised concerns over speculation that the bar was targeted for being a well-established gay club.
During this time, Mr Elliott had also told the paper he thought the fire was “suspicious” because of the anti-gay messages scrawled inside.
Oak Park police said in a press statement: “This incident was a troubling one for our community, who prides itself on being open and welcoming to all. A hate crime didn’t make sense.”
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According to Cook County court documents, police were initially tipped off on Mr Elliott’s alleged involvement from a man they picked up on a DUI charge.
They “determined that Elliott was involved in planning, committing and the eventual intended insurance benefits of this incident” after the man recorded meetings and phone conversations with him.
Judge Israel Desierto set Mr Elliot’s bail at $20,000, which his attorney, Richard Blass, said would be posted next Saturday.
Mr Elliott has been scheduled to appear in court Monday. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison for each count of arson and 15 years for insurance fraud.
Mr Blass claimed the counts against Elliott are “serious charges, but it doesn’t seem right.”
He said: “There may have been an arson, but my client wasn’t involved.”