Former Red Lion firefighter pleads to fraud charge in arson-for-profit case
A former Red Lion fire lieutenant accused of setting his SUV on fire in 2018 so he could collect an insurance payment has been sentenced to probation.
Sean Christopher Roth, 40, now of Baltimore, pleaded guilty Wednesday in York County Court to the third-degree felony of filing a false or fraudulent insurance claim.
As part of his negotiated plea agreement, felony charges of arson and risking a catastrophe were withdrawn, according to court records.
Roth was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to pay court costs.
"He's going to pay a lifetime consequence for a poor decision," defense attorney Korey Leslie told The York Dispatch. "There are hurdles that come with felony conviction, and they are hurdles he's going to have to jump over."
Being a convicted felon means he can't vote or possess firearms, and future employers who check his background will know he's a felon, the attorney said.
"I just viewed this as an action that was based on a moment of desperation," by someone struggling with financial debt, Leslie said.
In court Wednesday, Roth did not admit to torching his SUV, his attorney said. Rather, he admitted to filing a false claim to his insurance company that indicated the fire was accidental when it was intentionally set, according to the attorney.
Roth's crime did not get him out from under his car payments, Leslie confirmed.
The background: York Area Regional Police said Roth torched his 2016 Ford Escape outside his then-home on Cobblestone Court in Windsor Township on Aug. 29, 2018, so he could collect the insurance on it.
Roth reported the fire to the York County 911 Center on his portable fire radio, police said.
In addition to being a Red Lion fire lieutenant, Roth also worked as a firefighter/medic for Prince George's County, Maryland.
Both departments placed Roth on leave after he was criminally charged, officials have said.
He retired from Prince George's County on Feb. 29, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan.
Roth is not a member of Alliance Fire and Rescue Services, which Red Lion's Leo Fire Co. recently became part of, according to a department official.
The blaze: When officers arrived at the scene, they noticed that flames appeared to be coming from the center of the SUV's dashboard, but investigators later could find no electrical malfunctions there, police have said.
Roth said the front window had "burst out" shortly after he found the fire and that flames spread through the passenger compartment, documents state. A Yoe Fire Co. crew extinguished the fire, police said.
Roth told authorities that the check-engine light had come on the night before and that the SUV was not acting right, according to court documents.
But investigators said he had driven the SUV immediately before the fire and also removed all his belongings from it beforehand, documents state.
Roth eventually admitted he had started the fire, according to court documents.
Police said he told investigators that he jammed paper up inside the dashboard from the bottom, then lit it on fire with a butane lighter after he cleaned the vehicle out.
At the time he was placed on leave, Roth had served with Prince George's County Fire/EMS for more than 19 years, and he was assigned to the facilities and resource planning office.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.