Police charge two men with burning down garage to collect insurance money on classic cars

Chris Deverso is led into court by police Tuesday evening

Sheriff's deputies have charged two people for allegedly sparking a large garage fire to collect insurance money.

Flames erupted at the Norstar Apartment Complex in Clay late in the evening on July 3rd. Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputies say 40 year-old Chris Deverso from Clay and 40 year-old Robert Swartz from Denver are responsible for the fire that destroyed the 40 bay garage. Both were charged with arson in the 3rd degree on Tuesday.

Christopher Deverso is a familiar name on the news. He was first in the public spotlight for in 2009 when the State DEC wanted to remove "Rocky" the snakehead fish from his home for being an illegal species.

He was once again in the news in May of 2010 when his daughter, 17-year-old Victoria Deverso, was killed in a drunk driving crash in Bridgeport. The driver of that car, Chelsea Kuss, is serving three and a half years in prison.

Police kept Chris Deverso and Robert Swartz separate before and after their arraignments at the Town of Clay court on Tuesday night. Court paperwork shows the two men have very different versions of events that took place before the fire.

In an signed affidavit, Swartz says he started the fire at the Norstar Apartments garage but only after Deverso "said he would give me $10,000 for doing it so I agreed to do it for him. He gave me the key code to his garage and told me where the gas was."

Deverso had two classic cars he stored there that were worth about $80,000. Swartz, who is visiting from Denver, said in the affidavit that he drove Deverso's Cadillac Escalade to and from the scene. He says the payment Deverso promised him would come from the insurance money.

The fire caused almost half a million dollars in total damages.

Swartz says he was seriously burned in the fire and drove himself to the hospital. He had burns covering 40% of his body. At Tuesday night's arraignment, he walked with a cane and had gloves over his hands. Swartz was arraigned on felony arson and conspiracy charges.

Deverso was also arraigned on felony arson and conspiracy charges as well as insurance fraud. In a voluntary affidavit, Deverso said "he did not and would not" set the fire. Deverso said the fire "was the second worst thing that could have happened to me. The worst was my daughter's death." Outside court, Deverso put the blame for the fire on Swartz.

"I haven't suffered enough in my life so apparently people think I still deserve to suffer more," said Deverso. When asked what Swartz's motive would be to set him up, Deverso said "I don't know. Jealousy, envy, I don't know why anybody would do this to me."

Chris Deverso's bail was set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond. Robert Swartz's bail was set at $100,000 cash, $250,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for Monday, July 30th at noon if Deverso is still in custody. There is also another hearing scheduled for Tuesday, July 31st at 5:00 p.m.