Palm Beach Post

Accused Treasure Coast arsonist denied bail
By Sarah Prohaska

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 07, 2005

FORT PIERCE The man accused of setting fire to a string of businesses in St. Lucie County during the past two years, along with a night club in West Palm Beach, will remain in jail after a federal magistrate Thursday deemed him a danger to the community.

Magistrate Judge Frank Lynch also said Benjamin Harris, 40, is a flight risk and ordered Harris to stay in custody without the possibility of posting bail.

Harris, who last week entered a not guilty plea to the nine arson charges laid out in a federal indictment, remained silent during the brief hearing Thursday morning.

He's been in jail since Jan. 10 when he was charged with interfering with firefighters during an April 2004 fire at Camper's Connection, U.S. 1 and Dickson Drive, where he lived in an apartment above the main office. The federal grand jury indictment charges him with three counts in connection with fires at Camper's Connection in 2003, 2004 and 2005 that damaged or destroyed several recreational vehicles.

He's also charged with setting fire to RVs at Tropical RV Sales, 515 Palm Avenue; tractors and cars at Tibbs Trucking, 350 Dickson Dr.; vehicles at Tony's Auto Repair, 3385 S. U.S. 1 and fruits, vegetables and mechanical equipment at Yun's Produce, 3875 S. U.S. 1.

In addition, the grand jury charged Harris with burning down Club Chill, 700 Datura Street, in West Palm Beach, where he used to work.

"At each one of these fires, the business or property contained in the business, were damaged or destroyed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Waters said Thursday.

Investigators have said Harris also is a suspect in at least 25 arson cases in New York, 16 in South Carolina and another in New Port Richey north of Tampa. He's also suspected of setting about 24 other fires along U.S. 1 in St. Lucie County in which he has not been charged.

At least one witness told detectives he was afraid if Harris were released from jail, Harris would set the witness's house on fire, according to the arrest warrant.