Plea deal for Tacoma grocer who burned store for insurance money

A woman accused of setting her Tacoma grocery store on fire for insurance money won’t serve further time in jail.

Sokhein Soy, 51, pleaded guilty to first-degree arson Thursday. Pierce County Superior Court Judge G. Helen Whitener sentenced her to three days behind bars and gave her credit for the three days already served.

That sentence, below the standard range for the crime, was recommended by Deputy Prosecutor Kawyne Lund as part of plea negotiations.

“Defense has affirmatively represented the defendant received no money or other remuneration as a result of burning down her business,” Lund wrote. “Proof of that assertion is a condition of the disposition.

“It is also undisputed that the defendant has no criminal history and had the most to lose in destroying her business in an apparent attempt to avoid looming federal fines.”

At the time, Soy owed $70,000 in back taxes, and a $59,000 civil penalty for fraudulently accepting food stamps.

The conviction, rather than imprisonment, satisfied the state, Lund wrote.

Soy initially was charged in November 2014 with first-degree arson and presenting false insurance claims, after the investigation of the May 2012 fire at her store, the Tai Li Market in the 7000 block of Park Avenue.

In the debris, Investigators found a partially melted gas can, used to set paper on fire in the restroom of the business.

And surveillance footage showed Soy going back and forth between the front counter and the area where the restroom was, and at one point place what looked like a lighter on the counter.

She submitted an insurance claim for $11,600, for damages from the fire.

Soy’s daughter, Ranny Kang, wrote the court that her mother raised three children on her own, after leaving a physically abusive husband.

That was after she survived the Cambodian genocide and moved to the United States as a teenager.

“After years of working two jobs for minimum wage, she finally had the courage to start her own business from home,” Kang wrote. “Several years later, her dreams came true when she bought the local grocery store that would be her life and livelihood for the next 10 years.”

The letter said her mother was frustrated with the legal process, felt unheard and that the family just wanted the experience to be over.

“For someone who has seen so much death and experienced violence and abuse, she remains gracious,” Kang wrote.

Alexis Krell: