Crews from Largo Fire Rescue, Clearwater Fire & Rescue, and the Largo Police Department responded to reports of a structure fire at 1721 Clearwater Largo Road South.
The fire broke out at shortly after 4 p.m. on September 20, 2016 at the Belleair Express Lube and Auto Repair facility.
Crews from Largo Fire Rescue arrived on scene and forced entry into the closed business. The fire was brought under control and the investigation into its cause was initiated by the State Fire Marshall’s Office (SFO) along with investigators from the Largo Police Department.
The State Fire Marshall’s office ruled that the fire was incendiary in nature and an act of arson. According the an arrest affidavit, the origin of the fire revealed that the fire was started by some form of open flame device in the control of human hands.
On April 4, 2019, the owner of the business, 62 year-old Michael Gentile of Largo, was arrested and facing the following charges.
- Burning to defraud the insurer
- False and fraudulent insurance claim over $100,000 (2 counts)
- Possession of a controlled substance
Gentile reportedly closed the business early, secured all points of entry and left for the afternoon. He reported that he was the only one who had access to the business and it was secure upon the arrival of Largo Fire Rescue personnel.
According to the report, “All other potential sources of ignition were systematically eliminated by the SFO.”
Investigators spoke with Gentile at the scene who reported that his business was failing and had consulted with a bankruptcy attorney that afternoon. According to the report, he also stated that he owed the IRS an undisclosed amount of money.
Records indicate that in June of 2016 he attempted to increase his commercial insurance policy but his request was denied. Six days prior to the fire, the commercial insurance company requested proof of a fire suppression system for the business. The arrest affidavit indicates that Gentile never responded to that request from the insurance company.
Gentile had 39 prior insurance claims and was previously convicted of insurance fraud.
In 2010, Gentile completed an application with Insurance Solution of Pinellas for the Belleair Express Lube and Auto Repair facility. On the application, was a question asking about prior convictions of fraud or arson in the past five years. Gentile indicated no to that question despite prior convictions for fraud and insurance fraud in 2007 and 2009. This false information allowed him to obtain the policy and $550,000 in proceeds as a result of the fire.
Court documents also indicated that Gentile, in January of 2012, falsified information to obtain insurance coverage of two classic Camaro vehicles. Once again, he did not disclose about the prior insurance fraud convictions on the application. At the time of the application it is reported that he had six separate judgement/liens totaling over $300,000 that was also not disclosed. He submitted photographs to the insurance company of the two vehicles. Detectives determined that one of the vehicle was sold in 2003 and out of the state. Gentile later filed a claim for the two vehicles as a result of the fire and declared the value of each car at $85,000.
On June 15, 2017, police executed a search warrant on his home in the 6700 block of 121st Avenue. Detectives located a bank bag containing small bags with a white powdery substance. The arrest affidavit indicates that Gentile admitted that he previously had a cocaine addiction and that the substance was his.
Gentile was released from the Pinellas County Jail after posting a bond of $51,000.