A North Philadelphia pastor is behind bars after police say he set his own car on fire in an attempt to collect insurance money.
On March 20, around 11:30 p.m., police and firefighters responded to a call on the 2700 block of Emerald Street where they found a 2004 Nissan Quest fully engulfed in flames under the Conrail railroad tracks. Investigators discovered that the car belonged to 57-year-old Teofilo Santiago, the pastor of a local Pentecostal Church.
After being notified by police, investigators say Santiago reported that he had parked his car in front of his home on the 1800 block of N. 6th Street around 9:10 p.m. that same night and wasn’t aware it was missing.
The next day, investigators say Santiago contacted Nationwide Insurance and reported that his insured vehicle had been stolen and then recovered by police as a burn shell. Santiago claimed his Nissan was in perfect condition with no prior damage, according to police. Investigators say Santiago told them his two sets of car keys were accounted for at the time of the theft, that he never lost his keys and that he never had any additional keys.
Investigators with the Fire Marshall’s Office determined that the fire began in the passenger compartment of the car after an open flame was applied to the combustible material. The fire then spread from the passenger compartment to the roof and exterior panels, causing major damage to the car. Investigators ruled the fire as arson.
Investigators also determined that a properly cut mechanical key with the correct transponder code was used to operate the Nissan prior to the arson. Finally, investigators discovered that the Nissan was valued at $7,547 and that the damage to the vehicle far exceeded the car’s actual value. Police also say Santiago owed a balance of $4,700 to his lien holder on the Nissan.
On April 15, an investigator with Nationwide met with Santiago. Santiago allegedly maintained that the car was in perfect condition when it was stolen. However, police say he changed his story after the investigators showed him the results of the forensic examination. Santiago then allegedly admitted that his car was in bad condition and needed expensive repairs. Police say he admitted to conspiring with another person to destroy the vehicle, report it stolen and collect the insurance settlement.
Detectives arrested Santiago Tuesday morning. He’s charged with Arson, Insurance Fraud, Conspiracy and other related offenses.