A 42-year-old man has pleaded guilty to burning down his St. Cloud bar more than two years ago and then trying to collect more than $1.4 million in insurance.
Andrew C. Welsh, of neighboring Sauk Rapids, admitted Thursday in federal court in St. Paul to one count of arson after setting a basement desk on fire with gasoline inside the Press Bar and Parlor sometime after 2 a.m. on Feb. 17, 2020. The building and its contents were considered a total loss.
Welsh remains free until sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.
Nine days after the fire, he filed an insurance claim for $1.43 million because of the fire.
According to the county’s charges:
Welsh bought the bar in 2016 with his wife at the time for $850,000. He still owed $550,000 when the bar was set ablaze.
At the time of the fire, Welsh also faced lawsuits from contractors who claimed he never paid them for their work.
In Welsh’s divorce a year before the fire, a judge ordered him to sell the bar and split the earnings with his wife. However, he never put the bar on the market.
Employees told police that slow sales forced Welsh to lay off staff and stop serving tap beer.
An employee told investigators he opened the bar around 7 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2020. Welsh showed up later that night and stayed in the basement longer than usual, the employee told police. The bar closed about 1:30 a.m.
The employee left Welsh alone in the bar just after 2 a.m. Within the hour, police called to say the building was on fire. It took about 40 fire crew members to extinguish the blaze, which burned into the morning.
By the end of the week, a national team of specialty arson investigators were called in to determine the fire’s origin. The agents concluded the burn patterns didn’t match an appliance fire.
The investigation team’s dog sniffed out chemical accelerants atop the basement desk, which tested positive for an “ignitable liquid,” the charges read.
Star Tribune staff writer Andy Mannix contributed to this report.