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Firefighter pleas guilty to arson in Cherokee

Firefighter pleas guilty to arson in Cherokee

A Cherokee firefighter has pled guilty to federal charges for intentionally starting seven wildfires on the Qualla Boundary between 2010 and 2014, which cost the Bureau of Indian Affairs a total of $106,700 to extinguish.

Raymond Swayney, who was a firefighter for the BIA, set the fires so that he could get paid for helping to put them out, according to court documents. He did not act alone, court documents say, but Swayney is the only person named in the case. 

“Swayney and others set fires in the wildland areas of the EBCI reservation with the hope that they and others would be called in to fight the fires and thus be compensated by funds from the BIA,” reads a bill of information filed in court. 

According to court documents, Swayney pled to “conspiracy to commit offense to defraud the United States – timber set afire.” The original charges, before the plea, had included a charge of “explosives used in commission of felony.” That charge was dismissed following the plea. 

The fires Swayney pled guilty to starting include:

•Creek Fire, which started on March 5, 2010, burned 2 acres and cost $5,800 to extinguish.

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•Boar Fire, which started March 10, 2010, burned 2 acres and cost $1,200 to extinguish. 

•Possum Fire, which started May 21, 2011, burned 142 acres and cost $20,400 to extinguish.  

•Soco Fire, which started Nov. 21, 2012, burned 144 acres and cost $29,000 to extinguish.

•Drama Fire, which started April 6, 2013, burned 7.8 acres and cost $15,500 to extinguish. 

•Kituwah Fire, which started Feb. 25, 2014, burned 120 acres and cost $13,000 to extinguish. 

The charges do not pertain to the wildfires that ripped through Western North Carolina this fall. Swayney was originally indicted for the charges he eventually pled guilty to in May, long before the 2016 wildfire season began. 

Swayney was released on bond in June, but Judge Dennis Howell issued an Aug. 31 order that Swayney be detained “pending further proceedings” after finding that Swayney had violated the conditions of his release by making threatening statements to witnesses in the case. 

Therefore, Swayney was incarcerated during the 2016 wildfire season that included 15 fires burning 756 acres on the Qualla Boundary. Two Cherokee men have been arrested on charges of starting at least some of those 15 fires. Anderson Wildcat, Jr., 27, faces one charge of second-degree arson and Craigan Stan Wildcat, 35, faces nine charges of second-degree arson. They have not yet entered a plea but have a court date scheduled for Dec. 21. 

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