Dawara brothers sentenced to nine years imprisonment for arson and tax fraud conspiracy stemming from February 2018 Old City fire

 

Date: June 24, 2021

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

PHILADELPHIA — Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Imad Dawara of Swathmore, PA, and Bahaa Dawara of Woodlyn, PA, were both sentenced this week by United States District Court Chief Judge Juan R. Sanchez to nine years in prison and ordered to pay more than $22 million in restitution for conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The defendants previously pleaded guilty and admitted to planning and causing the arson of their business, RCL Management LLC, at 239-241 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia on February 18, 2018, and to evading the assessment of their income tax liabilities from 2015-2017. Imad Dawara also admitted to fraud in connection with his receipt of health care and other government benefits.

From around December 2012 until February 18, 2018, the defendants owned and operated various restaurants and entertainment establishments in Philadelphia, including a restaurant and hookah lounge in the 200 block of Chestnut Street. As detailed in the Indictment, the Dawara brothers were struggling in their Chestnut Street business and had a years-long history of fighting with their landlord. By October 2017, the Dawara brothers had ceased all business operations at the Chestnut Street location and attempted to sell the business, but as they had failed to renew their lease or pay rent, no one would buy it.

On January 31, 2018, their landlord directed the defendants to vacate the premises by February 2, and advised them that they owed over $64,000 in overdue payments. Nonetheless, the Dawaras failed to vacate the premises, and on the same day they were to leave, RCL Management purchased a $750,000 insurance policy providing coverage in the event of an accidental fire at the Chestnut Street property. On February 18, a fire was intentionally started with gasoline in the basement of 239 Chestnut Street, which destroyed the entire building, displaced approximately 160 people, closed the 200 block of Chestnut Street for months, and closed numerous businesses.

"The Dawara brothers selfishly and criminally thought only of themselves and their finances that fateful February night," said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. "But their horrific conduct left so many victims in its wake – including individuals, businesses and the City of Philadelphia at large. I hope these sentences provide a measure of closure to the victims, and I want to thank all of our partner agencies for coming together to investigate and hold the Dawaras responsible."

"These sentencings demonstrate that individuals who are willing to destroy property for financial gain and commit income tax violations will be held accountable," said IRS Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge Joleen Simpson. "The Dawara brothers had no regard for the well-being of others and were focused on their own greed. This collaborative effort with our law enforcement partners highlights the excellent investigative work done in ensuring such deplorable crimes are brought to justice."

"This sentencing is the result of the exhaustive effort by ATF's Arson and Explosives Task Force working in harmony with the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF's Philadelphia Field Division. "The Dawara brothers will now serve nine years in federal prison, as a result of his actions. Criminals who commit arson for any reason jeopardize the safety of the community and first responders and will be held accountable."

The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Fire Marshal, the Philadelphia Police Department, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Office of the Inspector General, with assistance from the Philadelphia Parking Authority Taxi and Limousine Division, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jeanine Linehan and Katherine E. Driscoll.