Heber Motel Arsonist Gets 1 Year
Christopher Smart, Salt Lake Tribune, Apr. 29
HEBER CITY — Continuing to maintain his innocence, Mazhar Tabesh was sentenced Wednesday to one year in jail and three years of probation after being convicted of aggravated arson in February for setting his small motel on fire in 2002.
Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre said he imposed a light sentence for the first-degree felony because Tabesh, 40, had no criminal history.
Utah law outlines a variable prison term of five-to-life for first-degree felony convictions.
Tabesh, a Pakistani national who has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years, also was ordered to pay restitution of $135,444, as well as $1,850 in fines.
But Eyre said that after 90 days in the Wasatch County Jail, Tabesh could serve the remainder of his sentence on work release — meaning he can leave the jail during business hours for employment.
Wasatch County Attorney Thomas Low agreed that five-to-life might be too harsh a sentence, but that Tabesh should serve jail time. Low argued that the motel owner was not the only victim.
“This whole community has been victimized by this case,” Low said, noting that Heber residents held a fund-raising benefit for Tabesh.
Low played a videotape of a July 22, 2002, TV news broadcast where Tabesh seemed to blame Heber residents for the arson. He labeled the fire a hate crime, retribution for terrorist attacks.
“The worst thing about this case is that he invoked 9-11 to cover his tracks,” Low said.
During his trial, Tabesh maintained that on July 21, 2002, an unidentified guest rented Room 112 in the Alpine Lodge on Main Street, where the fire broke out. But investigators found a food wrapper with Tabesh’s fingerprints in the room where gasoline and paint thinner were used to start the fire.
Prosecutors contended the motel was pulling Tabesh into debt and he had been unable to sell it. Tabesh had increased the insurance on the structure two weeks before the blaze.