A twenty-six-year veteran of the U.S. Navy was arrested and charged with arson and insurance fraud last week after investigators say he set fire to his home in order to claim insurance benefits.
Lieutenant Nolen John Zander’s home caught fire on St. Patrick’s Day in 2014. Upon their arrival, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue crews say they immediately suspected that the conflagration was set intentionally due to their perception of a strong smell of gasoline. After the flames were extinguished, investigators say that several gasoline-fueled fires were set throughout the two-bedroom home in Palm River-Clair Mel, and that an “incendiary device” that failed to detonate was also located on the premises within a detached apartment.
Authorities say that Zander informed them that he and his wife were spending the night at a motel at the time of the blaze. However, the investigators to whom Zander spoke say they noticed significant burns to his arms, neck, and face. Zander told them that the burns were a result of an overheated radiator on his vehicle that occurred while on the road, they say. However, according to investigators, surveillance footage showed the vehicle Zander says experienced radiator problems was idle on the motel’s premises at the time he said the radiator failure occurred.
Zander, who was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base as an intelligence officer, was allegedly considering leaving the service in recent months. Investigators say he recently changed insurance companies and increased coverages as well.
Tampa police arrested Zander, who turns 44 on May 1, pursuant to a warrant issued against him. He was charged with one count of first-degree arson of a dwelling and one count of burning to defraud an insurer. He was released the next day after posting a $9,500 bond. His wife Natasha has not been charged with any crimes at the time of this writing, but Hillsborough Fire Rescue told local media that the investigation continues.