A former member of the New Richmond volunteer fire department was convicted of arson Thursday afternoon in St. Croix County Circuit Court.
Richard Allen Hassel, 33, withdrew a not guilty by reason of mental defect to multiple arson charges and pleaded no contest to one count of arson before Judge Eric J. Lundell.
District Attorney Eric Johnson recommended a 20-year sentence including 10 years in prison and 10 years extended supervision
on the felony conviction. Judge Lundell ordered a pre-sentence investigation that he said would take eight to 10 weeks.
Hassel was charged with 10 counts of arson for fires he set from July 2001 through early May 2002.
The nine remaining arson counts were read into the record for purposes of sentencing and restitution and dismissed as part of a plea agreement. Hassel will also participate in a de-briefing with law enforcement agents to supply information on other arson incidents in Polk and Barron Counties. In return he will not be prosecuted for those crimes.
Sheriff's investigator Dave Hake said Hassel was involved in setting fire to the feed mill in Dallas on New Year's Day, 2002.
The conviction was for setting fire to a building in Roberts on July 22, 2001 that belonged to Dick Pearson.
Hassel, who has been held in jail on a $100,000 cash bail for 10 months, pleaded not guilty for reasons of mental disease or defect to arson charges Nov. 11 and was ordered to take a psychological examination.
Sheriff Dennis Hillstead and New Richmond police chief Mark Samelstad said Hassel was arrested May 8 in New Richmond after an intentionally set fire destroyed an abandoned house in Somerset on County Rd. I near the high school.
The sheriff said a court order was obtained to place a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) device on his truck.
The allegations included arson to buildings in the town of Richmond, town of Somerset and town of Warren between July 22, 2001 and May 7, 2002 and setting grass fires at four rural locations in the county.
The criminal complaint said Hassel set fire to abandoned houses, barns, sheds, and several junked cars at Wilson Auto Salvage in New Richmond. One barn fire was on Anderson Scout Camp Road in Houlton.
During the investigation, Hassel told officers that he had a drinking problem and said that when he drinks he likes to start fires. He said the weekend of April 20-22 was a bad one and that he drank all weekend.
Three of the arson counts charge him with starting fires to buildings at different locations on April 21 between 1:50 a.m. and 5:51 a.m.
Hassel lived in New Richmond a little over a year before he was arrested. He was a probationary member of the volunteer fire department.
Court records in Ramsey County, Minn., show Hassel was convicted of third-degree arson on Feb. 14, 1991. He was released on probation March 1, 1996.