Florida homeowner staged hate crime to cover up arson, police say

Zoey Fields

A Clay Hill homeowner was arrested Friday for arson after investigators discovered he set fire to two homes for which he was behind on payments, deputies say.

George Carneiro, 44, of Flach Drive in St. Johns scrawled a swastika and anti-Latino messages on a sign left at the crime scenes in an attempt to mislead investigators about who set the fires, a Clay County sheriff’s office spokesman said.

The sign found outside of the damaged homes read, “This is our land Latinos are not welcome f--- you,” along with a swastika next to the words, according to the arrest report.

Carneiro is in Clay County Jail and his bond is set at $25,003.Photo byScott RodgersononUnsplash

The investigation dates back to March 13, 2023, at approximately 11 a.m., when two homes located on Sharon Lane and Conifer Circle were allegedly set ablaze, leading to substantial property damage. No injuries were reported in either fire, according to the arrest report.

Investigators were led to Carneiro after a video, bank statements and phone records linked him to the case, a Clay County sheriff’s office press release said.

Investigators reviewed Carneiro’s bank records, which revealed he was significantly behind on his payments by approximately $39,346.05, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office arrest report.

A March 12 video from Walmart shows one of Carneiro’s employees purchasing fuel tanks with cash, investigators said. Additionally, a white Nissan NV-series van with a ladder rack that was registered to Carneiro was seen traveling toward the homes immediately before the fires and driving away from the area immediately after the fires were set, deputies said.

Carneiro owns a painting company in St. Johns, “ZRx Painting,” according to the arrest report. The company offers interior and exterior painting, cabinet painting and stains, office painting and color consultations, according to the ZRx webpage.

A ZRx company photo featuring a white Nissan NV-series van, like the one pictured leaving the crime scene.Photo byZRx Painting

Investigators obtained a search warrant for Carneiro’s phone records, which allowed them to geographically track the location of his iPhone during the times the fires occurred and linked Carneiro to the Clay Hill area, they said.

The Walmart video of Carneiro’s employee, bank records, interviews with the employee who purchased the fuel tanks and electronic records led investigators to believe there was probable cause to arrest Carneiro.

“I want to thank the patrol deputies who originally responded to these calls and the detectives who worked tirelessly to solve these crimes,” Sheriff Michelle Cook said. “Without their efforts, we would not have been able to make this arrest. I have zero tolerance for anyone who comes into our community and uses hate as a cover for their own schemes. We are fortunate that incidents like this are extremely rare in Clay County, and I appreciate the community members who came forward with information on the case.”

Carneiro surrendered to deputies on Friday, May 26, in the area of 212 Blanding Boulevard and transported to the Clay County Jail where his bond is set at $25,003. He is currently facing charges of burning to defraud the insurer and false and fraudulent insurance claims related to arson.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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