A Michigan truck driver has been arrested on federal charges for allegedly setting dozens of commercial vehicles belonging to a major trucking company on fire from 2020 through 2022.
On October 11, Viorel Pricop, 64, was arrested and charged with one count of arson of property in interstate commerce, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
According to court documents, between June 2020 to September 2022, 25 semi trucks owned by Phoenix-based Swift Transportation were set on fire while the truck was parked at gas stations or rest areas. In each case, the fire was started late at night on or near the trailer tires.
Authorities said that most of the Swift truck fires occurred along I-10 and I-40, with six fires in California, three fires in Arizona, nine fires in New Mexico, three fires in Texas, and one fire each in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.
Swift hired fire investigation consultants to look into the task of truck fires.
Using data from cell phone towers, investigators were able to determine that a specific GPS device installed in a tractor trailer was present at each fo the fires. Law enforcement was able to link the device to Pricop. After examining Pricop’s cellphone records, it was determined that his phone was present in the general area of 24 of the 25 fires, according to court documents.
On September 16, a search warrant was served on Pricop’s vehicle and home, which authorities say produced more evidence linking Pricop to the truck fires. Investigators seized logbooks, bills of lading, shipping receipts, and other documents, many of which contained location information, such as cargo pickup and delivery dates, which coincided with locations where fires in this series occurred.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
“Further record checks for Pricop revealed that he was convicted in 2018 in the Eastern District of Michigan for transportation of stolen goods. Swift cooperated in the investigation and prosecution of that case. Pricop was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and was given credit for time served. His term of supervised release ended in June 2019, about one year before the arsons in this case began, the affidavit states.“
The case is under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
If convicted Pricop faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison and a statutory maximum of 20 years in federal prison.