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three people have been arrested in connection with fires

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  • three people have been arrested in connection with fires

    Abbotsford police say three people have been arrested and face several charges of arson in in connection with fires set at properties owned by prominent Abbotsford businessman Paul Esposito.

    Today police will release details of a 14-month investigation into incidents of arson that burned two popular pubs to the ground, resulted in an estimated $9.5 million in damage, and put more than 100 employees out of their jobs.

    "We have three people in custody. We're holding a press conference to give a full account of all the details that we can share with the media and the public," Abbotsford police department spokesman Const. Casey Vinet said Monday.

    Abbotsford police were helped in the investigation by the combined forces special enforcement unit of B.C.

    Details of the case will be provided by the investigative team, Vinet said.

    Between Dec. 2, 2004, and Jan. 6, 2005, three of Esposito's businesses were torched.

    The Liquor Store @ Abbotsford on Montvue Avenue was set on fire Dec. 2, 2004, although damage was minimal. The business was one of two private liquor stores opened by Esposito after he purchased the buildings that had housed provincial liquor outlets.

    Days later, on Dec. 11, 2004, Wild Bill's Country Pub, on Industrial Way near the Sumas border crossing, was set ablaze and burned to the ground. Finnegan's Oyster Bar, perhaps the city's most popular watering hole, was destroyed by fire Jan. 6, 2005.

    The fires have had a dramatic impact on the community, which already has fewer licensed pubs and nightclubs per capita than any other Fraser Valley community.

    At the time of the Finnegan's fire, Abbotsford police said someone had been seen running from the fire scene, and a station wagon was seen near Finnegan's the morning of the fire.

    "It's not an old story and we're pretty confident that, at least locally, this will be a big story," Vinet said Monday. "Chief Constable Ian Mackenzie will have a fair bit to say at the [press] conference."

    Esposito is well known in Abbotsford and runs many businesses -- mostly liquor-oriented operations. Esposito still runs two private liquor stores in Abbotsford and a prominent hotel -- the Inn at King's Crossing -- which once boasted Finnegan's Oyster Bar as part of its complex. He also recently applied to develop a hotel and bar complex on the city's west side.

    In January 2004, Esposito accepted a $100,000 out-of-court settlement from a $70-million lawsuit against the City of Abbotsford after his application to open a casino was quashed.

    He had received approval for his proposed casino at Inn at King's Crossing from the District of Abbotsford prior to the district's 1995 amalgamation with the District of Matsqui. A 1997 referendum saw roughly 25 per cent of Abbotsford's eligible voters oppose the project by a 2-1 margin.

    Esposito did not return phone calls Monday night.

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