The primary operator of a bar near downtown Waukesha was allegedly involved in a 2017 fire that damaged the venue at 854 Martin St.
Brian Whitton faces five charges including arson, mail fraud, arson to commit a felony and making a false statement, according to an indictment filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin.
“Mr. Whitton is innocent of all wrongdoing and looks forward to being vindicated,” Daniel Adams, Whitton’s attorney, said in an email.
The publicly available court documents do not specify how Whitton was involved in setting the fire. The indictment says Whitton was the primary operator of the bar and, along with a business partner, had purchased the building through a land contract.
The indictment accuses Whitton of fraudulently obtaining three checks from the bar’s insurance company for nearly $162,000.
In June 2017, the insurance company, Pennsylvania-based United States Liability Insurance Co., sued the Waukesha police and fire departments along with the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, seeking to force the departments and agency to turn over security camera footage and allow the inspection of a heater from the building.
According to court documents, Whitton voluntarily turned over the security footage to the department.
A federal judge dismissed the case in 2018.
According to the indictment, Whitton allegedly lied to investigators, telling them in April 2017 that he had followed his standard practice in leaving more than $600 in the cash register when he closed the bar the night before the fire. The indictment says he had actually emptied the register of all paper currency.
A second fire took place at the building in April 2019, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report. The federal indictment makes no mention of that blaze.