A Washington dentist has been charged with arson after allegedly torching his office—containing badly needed protective medical gear—with lighter fluid after receiving word he was being evicted for not paying rent, prosecutors said.
Mohammad “Matt” Rafie, 53, was charged on Thursday with first-degree arson in connection with a series of fires at his Bellevue, Washington dentist practice lit over two days last week, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office told The Daily Beast.
Prosecutors allege Rafie, who ran A to Z Dental at the Bellgrove Medical Park, attempted to destroy protective medical masks and gowns by setting them alight in his exam and x-ray rooms before he was due to be evicted, even as overwhelmed hospitals nationwide were facing the coronavirus pandemic with a shortage of supplies.
“The defendant’s actions, in this case, reflect a desperate man willing to put others at risk to get what he wants,” King County Deputy Prosecutor Aubony Burns wrote in the probable cause affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast. “Also concerning were the items the defendant used to ignite the fire—medical masks and gowns. A medical professional himself, the defendant’s choice to use these precious items in the middle of a worldwide pandemic adds to the appalling nature of his crimes.”
According to the affidavit, the Bellevue Fire Department was first called to Rafie’s office, which is on the second floor of a complex that houses 28 different medical and dental offices just before 7:30 p.m. on March 23. Detective firefighters had extinguished three small fires inside the office that appeared to be intentionally set. The office, the charges state, also smelled of accelerants and investigators launched a probe.
“When he failed at burning his office down on the 23d of this month, he tried again the next day,” Burns wrote.
The next evening, the affidavit says, firefighters were again called to A to Z Dental at around 5 p.m and found five fires set throughout the office. Firefighters, who noted a strong smell of lighter-fluid and an opened oxygen tank, also found a box of medical supplies on fire in one corner of the office.
“The burnt contents appeared to be medical supplies, including blue paper gowns and medical masks,” the affidavit states.
After the fires were extinguished, investigators found the second box of medical gowns and masks torched in the middle drawer of a filing cabinet. A third box of supplies was also discovered next to the X-ray room, beside an open canister of oxygen, according to the affidavit.
“Despite the quick and valiant efforts of the Bellevue Fire Department a second doctor’s office was damaged, the office directly below the defendant’s office, and was occupied at the time of the arson,” Burns wrote. “He was willing to risk the lives of many in a 3 story occupied building, not once, but twice, to try to burn down his office.”
Prosecutors allege Rafie approached fire department personnel and “made statements that he was cleaning his office and dropped the oxygen tank and it caught on fire.”
The dentist was arrested at around 8 p.m, after leaving the scene for over an hour. He said “he didn’t feel well” after investigators noticed a lighter in his silver Mercedes but no cigarettes, the documents state.
The charges state that, throughout the two-day investigation, authorities learned Rafie was behind on rent for the last three months and was in the process of being evicted after being at the medical park since 2017.
“[The building manager’s] were currently in the process of having him evicted since he hasn’t paid rent since last December 2019,” the affidavit states, noting that the building had been granted a “3-day notice to pay rent or vacate” but was not sure if Rafie had received the document.
Upon getting a search warrant for Rafie’s home, authorities discovered a suitcase full of clothes that smelled of accelerant. A bomb-sniffing dog also found accelerants in every room of the dentist’s office and the boxes of medical supplies that had been destroyed in the fires, the affidavit states.
In the exam room, investigators also found a “5-gallon cooler jug” they believe was used to transport the accelerant throughout the office, a butane lighter, and two empty “large soap containers.”
“Documents inside the dental office indicate Dr. Rafie was in financial difficulty. This was also demonstrated through his failure to pay rent for several months for his office space. Other documents were previously found at his residence that indicate Dr. Rafie is an avid gambler at casinos,” the affidavit states. “The follow-up investigation will determine if this information [is] relevant and leads to further evidence and/or motive for the fire.”
Investigators also note this is not Rafie’s first criminal offense. The dentist was convicted in 2007 of paying “a 16-year-old girl to have sex with him,” and was also charged with domestic violence eight years. He also was convicted of destroying property in 2001.
The affidavit states that Rafie was also investigated for a similar failed arson-related incident in his former office in 2017. The fire, which happened on Rafie’s last day at his former office, is still under review.
“Accelerants that included gasoline and paint thinner had been poured throughout the office. The windows were broken, holes were punched into the drywall and wine bottles were smashed in several places,” the affidavit states of the 2017 incident, where the building did not catch on fire. “Burnt paper was found near the gasoline and a butane canister expelling gas was nearby.”
Rafie, who has since posted a $100,000 bail, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.