LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 56-year-old man was charged on Thursday with setting a massive fire that destroyed much of a multimillion-dollar apartment complex under construction in downtown Los Angeles and damaged three nearby buildings.
Dawud Abdulwali, who was taken into custody this week in connection with the Dec. 8 fire, pleaded innocent to two counts of arson during a brief hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Abdulwali, who was handcuffed during the hearing and clad in gray shorts and a black T-shirt, was ordered held on $1 million bail after prosecutors told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sergio Tapia that the defendant had a long criminal history that included convictions for fraud, grand theft and battery.
“He’s a flight risk and a danger to the community. This isn’t your normal arson, it’s not even your normal aggravated arson. There are damages near $100 million,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney told the judge.
A public defender appointed to represent Abdulwali had asked that bail be set at $500,000.
Abdulwali was ordered back to court on June 11 for a preliminary hearing, when prosecutors were expected to lay out at least some of their evidence in the high-profile case.
So far authorities have said little about what they believe motivated Abdulwali to set the fire, which took about 250 firefighters to extinguish and caused an estimated $30 million in damage to the building alone.
In announcing his arrest on Tuesday, police declined to say what evidence linked Abdulwali to the blaze.
An accelerant was used to start the fire on the fourth floor of the seven-story Da Vinci complex apartment complex under construction in downtown Los Angeles, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The building was to become the latest of several Italian-style luxury apartment complexes erected by developer G.H. Palmer Associates in the downtown area.
The site that burned, two stories of poured concrete beneath five floors of wood framing, occupied an entire city block near the junction of two major traffic arteries - the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway.
No one was injured, but much of the structure, wrapped in scaffolding, collapsed in the flames, producing heat so intense it ignited three floors of a neighboring high-rise building. The radiant heat also blew out windows in two other office buildings.
If convicted, Abdulwali faces a maximum sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham