Feds: Restaurateur Plotted to Burn Business, Get Drunk

Weatherford businessman hired undercover agent as arsonist, ATF says

A financially strapped Parker County restaurateur told an undercover federal agent he wanted to burn down one of his restaurants to collect $500,000 in insurance, according to a federal criminal complaint released Thursday.

Jorge Pinto, owner of Jorge's Mexican restaurant in Weatherford, was arrested Wednesday on his 55th birthday and released on his own recognizance Thursday afternoon.  He is charged with solicitation of arson.

"He was going to torch his restaurant," said assistant U.S. Attorney Bret Helmer.

Federal agents say Pinto planned on being "at home with his family and drunk the night of the arson, thus serving as an alibi."

He also told the agent he had recently undergone heart bypass surgery and would "fake a heart attack" when informed of the fire, the complaint said.

Pinto told the undercover ATF agent posing as an arsonist that he wanted a "total loss" and would pay him 10 percent of the insurance proceeds, or $50,000, the complaint said.

The agent, who claimed he was a former fireman "willing to help him with his problem," met Pinto through a confidential informant who Pinto had initially approached to burn the business, the complaint said.

Pinto also owns other Mexican restaurants in Aledo and Brock.

Pinto, of Weatherford, was held overnight in the Tarrant County Jail. On Thursday, a federal judge ordered him to surrender his passport and released him after a warning to attend future court hearings.

Federal prosecutors agreed the longtime businessman did not pose a flight risk. Pinto has never been arrested before.

The charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Pinto had nothing to say on his way out of the courthouse surrounded by family members. His attorneys also declined comment.

The complaint said Pinto met with the undercover agent at a Fort Worth bar on Tuesday to finalize the plan. Pinto told the agent "he wanted his restaurant burned to the ground and that he could not afford a partial loss," according to the complaint.

That night, Pinto brought the undercover agent and the informant to his restaurant and they went over details of the arson. The agent told Pinto he "could use a blowtorch to first burn the electrical power box and then use an accelerant (gasoline) to completely engulf the building." Pinto agreed, the complaint said.

The arson was to take place at 3 a.m. Thursday, according to the document. Instead, Pinto was arrested Wednesday evening.

"I don't know what to think," said Shirley Smelley, who runs the cell phone business next door and has known Pinto for years. "When you know people that long, you think that you know them."

Nearby salon owner Jenea Henderson said Pinto was always friendly and popular.

"I'm glad it didn't happen, that's all I can say," she said.

In April, the Weatherford Telegram profiled Pinto when he re-opened another restaurant, Goodnight Loving Steakhouse. The steak restaurant closed a few months later, and the federal complaint said Pinto lost $400,000 in the deal.

"I shake all my customers' hands and I know them by name," he told the newspaper. "When you come to my restaurants, you're my family."

Click here to see the criminal complaint.

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