The San Francisco Chronicle reports that federal authorities have arrested a suspect in one of nine blazes at East Bay construction sites that have gripped Oakland and surrounding areas and fueled suspicion that one or more arsonists were targeting new housing developments.
Dustin Bellinger, 45, who also uses the name Faheem Bey, was arrested on Nov. 20 in Oakland, according to Alameda County jail records.
The Chronicle says the U.S. Attorney’s Office have charged him with one felony count of maliciously damaging or destroying a building by means of fire or an explosive — a charge that carries a penalty of 5 to 20 years in prison.
Bellinger is a self-employed handyman and part-time construction worker from Oakland. He has previous convictions for serious crimes, including kidnapping and second-degree robbery. Court records indicate he was sentenced to 11 years and nine years in state prison for each crime, respectively.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives linked Bellinger to an intentionally set fire that burned itself out inside the under-construction Hollis Oak apartments along Peralta Street near the Oakland-Emeryville border in the early-morning hours of Oct. 23, according to a federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 21, the Chronicle reported.
The same morning as the Hollis Oak fire, a massive inferno destroyed a 126-unit residential construction site known as the Ice House complex 10 blocks away along West Grand Avenue — the second time the site had caught fire over a six-month period.
Federal authorities have not charged Bellinger with the Ice House fire or several other high-profile fires that destroyed major construction projects in and around Oakland in recent years, the Chronicle reports. The first reports of an arsonist came after authorities released video footage of a hooded bicyclist igniting a blaze that destroyed a $35 million Emeryville complex in May 2017 — the second time that site was targeted in a year.
Authorities have not said if they believe the person in the video was Bellinger.
However, in an application to seal the affidavit accompanying the federal complaint, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elise Lapunzina wrote that “this is an ongoing investigation into one of several arsons,” the newspaper reported.
The suspicious fires have put developers on edge for years with many investing in pricey security measures like round-the-clock guards, dogs, cameras, lights and fences. News of an arrest brought some measure of relief.
“It’s clearly good news for everyone involved — the developers, the Ice House project folks that were slated to move in there,” Simon Chen, chief financial officer of Madison Park Financial, told the Chronicle. “I think this is good news for the entire community.”
Investigators linked Bellinger to the Oct. 23 fire at Hollis Oak through DNA found on evidence left at the crime scene. A security guard at the 124-unit project, which was set to open Dec. 1, noticed smoke coming from the windows of a first-floor apartment, ATF special agent Cynthia Chang wrote in the affidavit.
The fire burned out in a first-floor bathroom due to lack of oxygen, officials said. Firefighters and police found a hammer on a window sill, a lighter and an unburned red plastic gasoline container with a rag stuffed into its spout outside the bathroom, Chang wrote.
Investigators later found more evidence at the scene, including a dust mask, a cigarette butt, a black latex glove and a “reddish-brown smudge” inside a broken window sill, officials said.
The smudge, hammer, cigarette butt and latex glove all contained DNA, which investigators plugged into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS database, Chang wrote. On Nov. 2, the DNA on the smudge came back to Bellinger, according to the ATF.
Bellinger also uses the name Faheem Bey on Facebook and Instagram.