Eureka motel arson, theft ring is No. 10 story of year
The case of arson and theft that led to the arrest of an alleged criminal kingpin was selected by Lovely County Citizen as the No. 10 story of the year.
Richard Dean Basnett, 61, of Tahlequah, Okla. and his counterpart, Jason Sears, 36, a transient of Eureka Springs, faced a slew of charges for theft and arson.
Their initial arrests were the result of an investigation into the fire and theft from the Pine Top Lodge in 2011; Basnett worked next door at the 1876 Inn.
The investigation launched by the ESPD reportedly turned up three stolen trailers filled with heisted property that was found behind the 1876 Inn and unearthed what officials say was a huge theft ring that had law enforcement agencies across northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri and Oklahoma involved.
Approximately $100,000 worth of items were recovered following the men's arrests, authorities say. At Basnett's home and at other Oklahoma properties, police recovered two zero-turn Kabota mowers that were stolen from Berryville Equipment last summer.
"We were able to recover a lot of property and return it to its owners," said Eureka Springs Police Chief Earl Hyatt. "A large amount of property was discovered during the investigation, and the suspects led us to rural area near Carrollton were more stolen property was recovered. We have since identified as to whose it was and returned it."
Additional caches of contraband began to surface following interviews with Sears, who was captured in Missouri after a multi-agency pursuit. Sears reportedly admitted to the theft and arson fire at Pine Top Lodge, claiming Basnett offered him $10,000 and a pickup truck for burning the motel and gave him the fuel to start the fire.
Basnett has not confessed to committing any arsons, police said, but they remain confident that he was involved.
In 2007, police say, Basnett was caught red-handed by an officer in an attempted arson at Land O Nod Inn in Eureka Springs. The case was dismissed because Tim Weaver, the city attorney, didn't provide the defense with discovery information they had requested, says Hyatt, who said they found lighter fluid, rags and a lighter when Basnett was arrested.
If Basnett is convicted in the most recent arson and theft, his arrest history can be used for the sentencing process but not in the innocence or guilt phase of the trial, police said.
"We don't want to lead to guilt with other issues, we only use the specific items he is being charged for at that time," Hyatt said.
The ESPD is unsure whether any charges have been brought against Basnett in Missouri for crimes in its jurisdiction. Sears is currently incarcerated in Missouri for his crimes.
Earlier this year, Basnett was federally charged in Oklahoma for unlawful possession of a stolen firearm. He is a convicted felon and felons are not allowed to possess firearms.
"He has not been adjudicated on (our) local cases yet," Hyatt said. "He was convicted on federal charges for possession of a stolen firearm. He was sentenced and brought back to Eureka Springs to face charges here."
He is currently incarcerated at the Carroll County Detention Center and is being held on a $300,000 bond. His next scheduled court appearance is Jan. 15.
If Basnett were to make bond, he would be immediately turned over to the custody of federal marshals.