Owner of St. Cloud’s Press Bar sentenced to prison for arson, must pay $3M in restitution

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A man who pleaded guilty to intentionally lighting the Press Bar and Parlor on fire in St. Cloud more than two years ago will serve time in federal prison.

Earlier this year, 42-year-old Andrew Welsh entered guilty pleas to intentionally lighting the fire.

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Friday, a federal judge sentenced Welsh to nearly six years in federal prison for the crime, as well as restitution, which totals more than $3 million.

Court documents say Welsh used gasoline to start the fire, which destroyed the building, going on to add he then filed a claim for nearly $1.5 million for damages and property lost. He also falsely stated in the insurance claim that “said loss did not originate by any act, design, or procurement on the part of your insured,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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The 71-month prison sentence is the maximum under the guidelines for someone such as Welsh, who had no other criminal history.

“Fire is particularly a monster that once you summon it, you can’t control it,” said Nathan Nelson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, at the sentencing hearing. “(Welsh) had to know at a minimum … he would harming his neighbor and probably harming many others.”

No one was seriously injured in the fire in February 2020, but the neighboring Cowboy Jack’s bar and restaurant had significant damage.

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“It left a vacant pile of rubble, shut down businesses for some time and really left a hole in the heart of that community,” Nelson said.

As part of Welsh’s petition for a lighter sentence, his attorney told the court his client’s crime was not premeditated and blamed the end of his marriage and financial trouble for his actions.

“This was a complete act of desperation,” defense attorney Ryan Garry said. “It wasn’t all planned out. Mr. Welsh had lost everything.”

That plea for sympathy only went so far with Judge Eric C. Tostrud.

“The truth is many Americans deal with these challenges every day without turning to crime and putting people’s lives at risk,” Tostrud said.

The St. Cloud Fire Department is now among the parties due restitution from Welsh.

Steve Wunderlich, deputy chief of operations, says the outcome of the fire could have been much worse.

“Anytime you have a basement fire, you have all the heat and everything coming up. Plus, it was really hard to find where the fire started because it burned through the floor,” Wunderlich said. “It could have very easily spread to other businesses. With our people going in … we could have lost people, we could have lost more businesses.”

Despite telling the court he had “accepted responsibility” for his crime, Welsh struck a different tone when asked for comment outside the federal courthouse in St. Paul before sentencing on Friday.

“The government put out all this fake news … they’re evil people,” Welsh said.

He did not answer questions about whether he still admits to setting the fire to collect insurance money.

“They’re real good at lying,” Welsh said. “And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Welsh is expected to turn himself in to begin his prison sentence in November.