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Arson Ringleader Gets 60-Year Prison Term

January 3, 1985 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ A 28-year-old fire buff who authorities said led a band of fellow ″sparkies″ on a 14-month arson spree was sentenced Thursday to up to 60 years in state and federal prisons for his conviction on multiple charges.

″These were either acts of terrorism or sheer malice, I don’t know which,″ said U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel in sentencing Donald F. Stackpole, of Scituate to a 40-year federal prison term.

Stackpole, a fire buff who often arrived at fires in a red station wagon and dressed as a fire chief, was convicted in federal court Nov. 30 on five arson counts and 12 related charges in connection with what Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Robinson called ″a massive conspiracy to burn down the city of Boston.″

Earlier in the day, Stackpole pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to six additional state arson counts and was sentenced to a 19- to 20-year term at the Walpole state prison.

Officials said 282 people, including 65 firefighters were injured in more than 200 fires that erupted around Boston in 1982 and 1983. The fires, part of the largest arson ring in the nation’s history, caused at least $22 million in property damage, according to U.S. Attorney William Weld.

Testimony at his trial showed that Stackpole had a longstanding animosity toward firefighters because he thought they were overpaid and underworked. Stackpole, described by one witness as running a ″mythical″ fire department, showed up at many fires and heckled those battling the blazes.

Stackpole was among seven people indicted in the federal case, and at least four of the others have pleaded guilty.

Other defendants told authorities they were trying to spark a public outcry for more firefighters in the wake of a tax-limiting referendum that forced the layoff of hundreds of public safety workers.

″The consequences of the fires are, I’m not sure even now, fully tallied,″ said Mrs. Zobel, who noted that two firefighters were permanently disabled.

The blazes, which usually broke out late at night in vacant buildings, warehouses, churches and dumpsters, taxed the Boston Fire Department to its limit and took a financial and emotional toll on those whose property was destroyed, she said.

″The fires occurred at an incredible and never-before-experienced rate,″ she said.

Stackpole, who had asked the judge for leniency ″for my family,″ showed no emotion as Mrs. Zobel pronounced sentence. The judge said she would recommend to the Federal Bureau of Prisons that Stackpole serve the federal sentence concurrently with the state term, which could reduce his total prison time to a maximum of 40 years.