Philadelphia

Brothers Behind Old City Hookah Lounge Fire Get 9 Years in Prison

The brothers were sentenced to nine years in prison for intentionally setting their building on fire to collect the insurance payout

Two brothers who intentionally set their Philadelphia hookah lounge on fire, and subsequently destroying an entire block of Old City in 2018, were sentenced this week to nine years in federal prison.

Imad Dawara, 40, of Swarthmore, and Bahaa Dawara, 32, of Woodlyn, were also ordered to pay more than $22 million in restitution for conspiracy to commit arson, according to a news release.

The brothers previously pleaded guilty to intentionally setting their Old City hookah lounge on fire to collect the insurance payout, sparking a blaze that spread to multiple neighboring businesses and required hundreds of firefighters to put out.

“The Dawara brothers selfishly and criminally thought only of themselves and their finances that fateful February night,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said Thursday. “But their horrific conduct left so many victims in its wake – including individuals, businesses and the City of Philadelphia at large.  I hope these sentences provide a measure of closure to the victims.”

The fire spread to four alarms and multiple neighboring businesses in the 200 block of Chestnut Street.

The brothers owned both the struggling B-side Hookah Lounge and a diner. After years of disputes with their landlord, the brothers were finally told in late January 2018 that they had to be out by Feb. 2.

Instead, the day they were supposed to leave, the brothers refused and took out a $750,000 insurance policy that covered accidental fires.

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Imad Dawara allegedly threatened to destroy the building if the landlord evicted them and asked the insurance broker "how he would get paid" if there was a fire in the building.

Investigators say Bahaa Dawara lit gasoline on fire in the basement of their building on Feb. 18, sparking the blaze that displaced 160 people and burned down several businesses and homes.

The fire killed pets, summoned nearly 400 firefighters, turned the area into a potential collapse zone and forced the surrounding block to close to traffic for months.

Both brothers also admitted to evading taxes from 2015 to 2017, and Imad Dawara admitted to fraudulently collecting health care and other government benefits, including Medicaid, SNAP and TANF, prosecutors said.

“These sentencings demonstrate that individuals who are willing to destroy property for financial gain and commit income tax violations will be held accountable,” IRS Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge Joleen Simpson said in the press release. “The Dawara brothers had no regard for the well-being of others and were focused on their own greed."

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