St. Cloud bar owner gets 6-year sentence for arson scam

A photo shows a destroyed building
A photo included in federal court documents shows the remains of the Press Bar in downtown St. Cloud following an arson on February 17, 2020.
Courtesy photo

A federal judge on Friday sentenced a central Minnesota man to nearly six years in prison and ordered him to pay $3 million in restitution for burning down his St. Cloud bar as part of an insurance fraud scheme.

Prosecutors said that on Feb. 17, 2020, Andrew Charles Welsh of St. Joseph, Minn. poured gasoline onto a desk in the basement office of the Press Bar in downtown St. Cloud and set it alight.

The overnight fire destroyed the building and activated an alarm next door where a resident was sleeping. No one was injured.

Welsh, 43, submitted a $2 million insurance claim to the Illinois Casualty Company, according to federal prosecutors. In the claim, he falsely attested he did not cause the fire. A federal grand jury indicted him in November 2020 on charges of arson, use of fire to commit a felony, and wire fraud.

Just before he was due to face trial in May, Welsh pleaded guilty to arson, and the government agreed to drop the other counts.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Welsh had substantial debts, including his purchase of the bar, but rejected legitimate means of resolving them. According to court documents, Welsh bought the business from its previous owners in 2016 for $825,000 on a contract for deed.

However Welsh struggled financially, had difficulty making his monthly payments to the sellers, and was facing a final payment of about $457,000 in April 2022.

“Not content to merely ‘break even’” by selling the business, prosecutors wrote in a filing, Welsh burned down the bar “in the hopes of turning a huge profit from the insurance proceeds.”

In their request for a 71-month prison term, which Judge Eric Tostrud granted, prosecutors wrote that Welsh's "crime motivated by greed" put the lives of first responders at risk and wrought destruction on his neighbors and the community.

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