Man accused of covering up theft waives preliminary hearing

A Morrisdale man accused of setting his truck on fire to cover up his alleged theft of raffle ticket funds waived his right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday during centralized court in Clearfield County.

William Blake Verbeck, 62, is charged with 18 counts of arson-endangering persons, one count of arson-reckless burning, four counts of criminal mischief, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, arson-failure to control/report dangerous fires and an additional summary charge of arson-reckless burning. He is free on $25,000, unsecured bail.

The charges stem from an incident Aug. 23 when Verbeck reported that his vehicle was on fire. Later he told Morris Township Fire Department officials that raffle tickets and cash that he was delivering to them were destroyed in the fire.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, fire departments from Winburne and Grassflat responded to the fire with 18 firefighters.

A deputy fire marshal with the state police determined the fire began within the cab of the pickup truck, but was unable to find the cause. He did notice there were an inordinate amount of paper products including a phone book and mail in the vehicle but he was unable to find any evidence of raffle tickets or cash. He began to suspect Verbeck had started the fire intentionally in order to cover up the fact that the money had been spent.

When Verbeck was questioned by police, he admitted to having money problems but claimed there was $300 in cash in the truck along with $800 worth of ticket stubs.

Another $600 worth of stubs were found at Verbeck’s residence, but no cash was recovered. Verbeck then admitted to officers he was using the money to pay his bills and confessed to intentionally lighting the fire using a cigar and tissue paper, according to authorities.

At least eight people told the fire department that they purchased tickets from Verbeck, but no tickets in their names were turned in by Verbeck or any other ticket sellers. They were given replacement tickets.

The fire department estimated their losses to be at least $2,000 for missing tickets, replacement tickets, cash, refunds and legal fees. In addition, the bank that financed the vehicle reported Verbeck still owes $6,000 for the truck.