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Owner: Villanova Mansion Fire Part of Arson, Fraud Scheme

The owner of historic "Bloomfield" said Canadian renters engaged in "a pattern of racketeering activity" prior to the April blaze.

The fire that all but destroyed “Bloomfield,” the Horace Trumbauer-designed mansion on South Ithan Avenue in Villanova, was part of a scheme by renters to obtain an insurable interest in the estate and assert the right to receive all proceeds of the insurance in the case of a fire, according to a lawsuit filed Nov. 29 in U.S. District Court.

and neighbors gathered at the foot of its driveway to watch and gasp.

While neither police nor fire representatives have said that there were any “criminal origins” to the fire, owner Jerald S. Batoff in his complaint alleges that would-be buyers Dean Topolinski and Julie Charbonneau “engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity that included mail fraud, wire fraud and arson aimed at obtaining both insurance proceeds and the property itself for future real estate development.

The estate was well-known for its large formal gardens, part of which was subdivided within the last 30 years into the Trianon development.

He also claims that Topolinski, an interior designer in Canada, has done this before. You can read the complaint in its entirety in the pdf section of this article.

Topolinski and Charbonneau entered into an agreement to purchase the property for $5.2 million in March, 2011. But Batoff, the seller, alleges that they never planned on paying the sale price for the estate. He said the would-be buyers kept putting off the settlement date and instead asked for a long-term lease with intent to purchase.

On Nov. 13, the day before a scheduled lease signing, the lawsuit alleges that Topolinski staged a break-in at his business, DGI Services, to obtain insurance proceeds. When the lease was signed, it gave them a purported insurable interest under the option to purchase.

Batoff avers that in March 2012, in preparation for the fire, they got rid of their groundskeepers and disabled the home’s security system. He states that when the fire marshal ruled the cause of the April fire "undetermined" the couple went into action. In May 2012 Topolinski and Charbonneau filed their insurance claim and quickly received more than $1.25 million in an advance payoff.

Catherine December 04, 2012 at 12:53 PM
So, did these renters only plan to burn the house 'a little bit' or didn't they care what happened to the architectural treasure since they were only after the land? It's sickening no matter what.
Sam Strike (Editor) December 04, 2012 at 01:01 PM
The loss of this house is a loss for the township and its history. And if the lawsuit claims are true, even worse.
Gary December 08, 2012 at 08:29 PM
It's interesting that the insurance company paid them quickly. My experience with home owners' claims has been just the opposite with no suspicious circumstances. How exactly did they start the fire to avoid an arson ruling by the fire marshall?
Winnetka December 27, 2012 at 11:42 PM
The first crime was the fact that the property was subdivided years ago to create "Trianon". The current owner is guilty of being a moron whose greed blinds him to the real intent of the renter/buyers.
Amanda Ambroziak January 10, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Are they going to rebuild this?
Rich Porardo January 28, 2013 at 02:15 AM
If it was arson, I'd hang the SOBs in the nearest tree in front of the house.

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