Man sets house on fire, police say


By Andrew Marra, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2003



Richard Martinko couldn't make the mortgage payments. His health was suffering. His application for medical coverage had just been denied.

He needed money.

And in July 2002, law enforcement officials say he decided to do something about it.

After a yearlong investigation, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office arrested Martinko this week, alleging that he intentionally burned his suburban Lantana home last summer in an attempt to collect insurance payments.

Sheriff's officials and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue investigators say the 42-year-old Martinko used mineral spirits to set fire in at least 10 different locations within his home at 6626 Riparian Road.

Martinko later filed an insurance claim with QualSure Insurance.

Investigators say in many instances he either inflated the value of destroyed items or claimed items that had been removed before the blaze.

Martinko, who cleans pools, had lived in the home with his brother, his sister and his sister's son. Officials say his financial situation prompted the alleged act.

He suffers from a life-threatening disease and in May 2002 had been rejected for medical assistance from the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.

District officials said he wasn't eligible because his annual income at the time was higher than $13,470. Two months later he reapplied for assistance and was accepted.

In the months before the house fire, a bank began foreclosure proceedings on his home, according to an arrest report.

Christopher Jette, Martinko's attorney, said his client would plead not guilty to the charges and that they are based on circumstantial evidence.

"They're saying he did it for the money," Jette said. "Well, I guess the joke is on him then, because he lost his home and the insurance company bailed on him."

Martinko was being held in the Palm Beach County jail Wednesday evening on $5,000 bail.

He is formally charged with first-degree arson of a dwelling and burning to defraud an insurer.

andrew_marra@pbpost.com