Former real estate developer gets nearly 36 years for arsons
BY DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
A former Tulsa real estate developer was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 36 years in prison after being convicted last year of federal arson charges.
Michael Sherman Tolliver, 61, was found guilty in March 2011 of committing four federal crimes: two counts each of arson and use of fire to commit mail fraud charges connected to a May 13, 2001, blaze at 1208 S. Indian Ave. and a March 29, 2003, fire at 1735 E. 31st St.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Gallant told the jury last year that Tolliver was driven by “the flame of greed” to burn down buildings on rental properties in which he had an ownership interest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Souders said Tolliver collected nearly $300,000 from insurance companies in connection with three of the fires and attempted unsuccessfully to collect a six-figure sum on the fourth.
Tolliver was indicted in connection with multiple fires in September 2010. Besides the counts on which he was convicted, he was acquitted of charges linked to a Nov. 6, 2002, blaze at 3522 S. Joplin Place, and the jury failed to reach a verdict on counts tied to an Oct. 14, 2000, Claremore fire during which two firefighters were injured.
Tolliver’s attorney, Stan Monroe, said Tuesday that the delay between the fires and the filing of charges was prejudicial and put the defense at a disadvantage.
The federal statute of limitations for arson is 10 years. Gallant has previously said a thorough investigation was undertaken to make sure the right result was reached.
Gallant said Tuesday that he thought the 35-year, 10-month prison term meted out by U.S. District Judge James Payne was fair and reflects how serious arson is. He said that once a fire is set, no one can control what might happen.
He pointed out that the fires occurred in urban areas and said it was “just by happenstance they didn’t create catastrophes.”
But Monroe said he didn’t know how the prosecution could feel good about the sentence. He said the punishment was “grossly unfair” and extreme considering that the events occurred about a decade ago.
Federal inmates are assured of serving at least 85 percent of sentences exceeding one year. Monroe said that barring a successful appeal, “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure out that Tolliver will be spending the rest of his life in prison.
Monroe said Tolliver has already paid more than $92,000 in penalties connected to the case. Whether he should pay more appears to be among the issues destined for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, he said.
Michael Sherman Tolliver