Update June 12: Navom was reportedly arrested in Litchfield, N.H., and released on personal recognizance last week; McLenithan was set to be arraigned on Monday morning.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The owner of the apartment building that burned down on May 17 is expected to be charged with arson and conspiracy along with an alleged accomplice.
Police say Brandon Navom, 42, of State Road hired 19-year-old Gabriel McLenithan, a former tenant, to torch the condemned building that was insured for $1.2 million.
Two witnesses, including a woman who had had a relationship with McLenithan, say McLenithan had told them he started the fire for a $10,000 payment and an apartment outside the area, according to the arrest warrant.
An arrest warrant was issued this week for both Navom and McLenithan.
McLenithan was taken into custody on Wednesday in Dudley by North Adams Police detectives with assistance by Dudley and State Police. He was held without the right to bail by the Dudley District Court and is awaiting transport back to Berkshire County.
Firefighters responded to 28 Morgan Ave. around 11 p.m. on May 17 to find the 1880-circa building fully engulfed. Flames could be seen throughout the downtown. Residents at a nearby State Street house were evacuated for several hours.
Fire officials and the State Fire Marshal's Office had deemed the blaze "suspicious."
Navom purchased the eight-apartment building in January 2022 for $100,000. At the time of the fire, no one was living there. The 1880 building had been condemned as being uninhabitable and structurally unsafe.
According to the report filed with the warrant by Detective Tyler Drewnowski, Navom the following morning suggested that an evicted tenant or possibly a squatter might be responsible. He declined on the advice of his attorney to state where he had been the prior day following a Zoom meeting with the Board of Health over another building he had an interest in. He told the detective he was unsure if the Morgan Avenue building was insured, according to the report.
Investigators say they learned Navom had taken out a $300,000 mortgage on the property and an insurance policy for $1.2 million through Hartford Insurance Co.
McLenithan's former girlfriend, with whom he is having a child, contacted police and later provided them with text messages from McLenithan in which he says he is "doing something to make it so we have money to raise our child." In the text messages, there's a reference to $10,000 and an offer to buy her a car. He insists she call him and during that conversation, and she told police that he said the business he was referring to was burning the building.
Another witness told police that McLenithan had been bragging about starting the fire and had told her he would bail out his friend (her ex-boyfriend) who was currently being held. According to this witness, Navom had picked up McLenithan from where he was living in Webster and then drove him back after the fire.
McLenithan had apparently lived for some time at Navom's apartment building at 680 State Road including as Navom's roommate there. A witness says McLenithan was at Navom's house the day of the fire.
Navom is still at large. North Adams Police are asking if anyone knows his whereabouts to contact the Detective Unit at 413-664-4944, Ext. 4236 or 4220.
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Blackinton Mill Owners: City's Delays Put $17M Hotel Project in Peril
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
Mayor Jennifer Macksey speaks at Tuesday's City Council meeting as Tourists owner Ben Svenson looks on.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The $17 million expansion plans for the Blackinton Mill are tripping over a 10-foot high pile hides that has been decaying for 60 years.
The partnership that operates Tourists resort says the whole project — including a proposed bike path — is in danger of failing before it even begins if a November grant deadline to clean up the mess isn't met.
But the Mayor Jennifer Macksey says more testing is needed before the city takes control of the one-acre site and is positing a February closing date.
On Tuesday, the partners were pleading with the City Council to use any tools it had to make the mayor abide by an agreement to close on the parcel before the deadline.
"I really don't want to say it will go away but we will not be able to sustain any longer unless we can resolve this issue," said principal Benjamin Svenson. "And so I appeal to you tonight to please — whatever tools you have — communicate to the mayor the urgency of resolving this matter."
The matter before the council was an authorization for the mayor to purchase the property, which would be for $1. The city would be able to apply for a U.S. Environmental Protection Act brownfield grant not available to the private entity.
"We need this to secure our financing," said Svenson. "We can't get a bank loan until we resolve this matter. ...