Frank Elliott had a hard time holding back the tears when his prominent Chicago-area gay bar burned down in June 2012.. “… everything that I’ve worked for … my whole life is on the line and I don’t know what to think or even begin with,” he told a TV reporter.
It was a good acting job. Elliott planned the fire, complete with spraypainting anti-gay slurs on the inside of the popular club just before his hired arsonist torched it.
Elliott got off easy when sentenced last week. No prison, just probation and a fine plus restitution of $107,000 for the insurance claim.
His wasn’t the only fake hate crime that hit the news last week. A federal jury in Tennessee ruled that a lesbian couple torched their Knoxville, Tenn.-area home in 2010 and blamed the insurance arson on a bigoted neighbor. Their insurer denied the $276,000 claim, and Carol Ann and Laura Stutte sued. The jury concluded the insurer had ample evidence that the couple burned down their own home.
They got off even easier than Frank Elliott. No criminal charges, no penalties other than the claim denial.
Committing a hate crime comes with extra penalties in many jurisdictions, including under federal law. There should be extra punishment for committing a fake hate crime as well.
People become more skeptical and more cynical every time one of these stories makes the news. Communities are less likely to reach out to real victims of hate crimes. People are less likely to believe their stories. Victims of hate crimes are victimized a second time by the devious attempts of those who fake hate crimes to file bogus claims.
Our courts should send decisive warnings that bogus hate crimes such as these latest insurance arsons are a ticket to swift and sure punishment.