- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Investigators believe a Sunday afternoon blaze that gutted the waterfront mansion formerly owned by an infamous local pastor was intentionally set.
About 2 p.m. Sunday a call went out after a boater spotted flames coming from the home at 5200 Rivers Edge Place in Indian Head. Members of the Potomac Heights Volunteer Fire Department were the first to respond. All told, around 75 firefighters showed up to combat the blaze, according to an Office of the State Fire Marshal news release.
Investigators have determined the fire started in a three-car garage adjoining the home. It is believed the fire was intentionally set, caused by an incendiary device.
The home was abandoned in 2012, after its occupant, the Rev. Dr. Robert “Shine” Freeman, former pastor of Save the Seed Ministry, pleaded guilty in federal court to obstructing bankruptcy court proceedings. For this, Freeman received a 27-month federal prison sentence. Although originally ordered by U.S. District Judge Roger Titus to pay $631,000 in restitution to the congregants, that part of his sentence was reversed in January after a lower court found that the obstruction of bankruptcy proceedings did not affect the losses of the church members. Having been ordered to pay restitution rather than a fine, Freeman may now have to pay the fine instead.
Potomac Heights VFD Chief Kevin Grinder said Monday that when the home was vacated two years ago, the fire department drafted a plan for how to best combat a blaze in the 15,500-square-foot home should a fire ever start there. This, Grinder said, was a necessity because of accessibility issues created by its location near the water and at the end of a long driveway.
“We had a plan in mind ... and it went pretty well, but we found the water system in the surrounding neighborhood couldn’t support what we needed,” Grinder said. To rectify this, Grinder said it became necessary to bring water in on tanker trucks.
At first, Grinder said, no one was sent inside the home to fight the blaze because of concerns about its structural integrity and the extent of vandalism inside. Grinder said the roof of the mansion is entirely gone, and the fire caused the brick and mortar inside to crack.
Freeman had a reputation as a bombastic preacher and was the host of a television program that had an opening sequence that featured him turning into a fighter jet and flying off the pulpit into the sky, as he had labeled himself “God’s Top Gun of Deliverance.”
Freeman used funds from the church to purchase the mansion, valued last at $1.75 million, along with a fleet of luxury cars valued at more than $1 million, including a Maybach and a Bentley. Freeman hid these assets when he filed for bankruptcy in November 2005, according to past reports in the Maryland Independent. In December 2010, he was indicted on charges of obstructing court proceedings, making false statements and falsifying records in the bankruptcy proceedings.
The home, according to a past report in the Independent, also included a deep-water pier, 20,000-pound covered boat lift, personal watercraft lift, two four-car garages, five fireplaces and a gym complete with a steam room. Freeman also had a private jet acquired through church funds.
The Maryland state fire marshal is handling the ongoing investigation.