Woman accused of Tacoma arson faced big bill for back taxes, fraud penalty

A woman accused by her family and Pierce County prosecutors of setting her Tacoma grocery store ablaze for insurance money owed $129,000 in back taxes and as a penalty for food stamp fraud, according to charging papers.

Sokhein Soy, 50, was charged Nov. 14 with first-degree arson and presenting false insurance claims. She has not yet been arrested, and is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 26.

Court records did not list a lawyer for her.

The investigation of the fire was finished only recently, more than two years after the blaze. Charging papers give this account:

The fire on May 21, 2012, damaged the bathroom of the Tai Li Market in the 7000 block of Park Avenue.

In the debris, investigators found a partially melted gas can, which the fire marshal said was used to douse paper in the restroom with fuel and start the fire.

Soy’s nephew, an employee of the store, told an insurance investigator who interviewed him that he arrived at the business the day of the fire to find smoke coming from the bathroom, the door to which was glowing red.

He told Soy, who was at the front counter, and she responded: “Someone is trying to burn my bathroom. Why is someone trying to hurt me?”

Fire crews arrived and put out the fire, and Soy submitted an insurance claim for $11,600 for the damages.

When police interviewed the nephew, he told them he believed Soy started the blaze.

Store surveillance video from the time of the fire showed her going back and forth several times between the front counter and the back area where the bathroom is, off camera.

At one point she returned to the front and put what the detective believes to be a lighter on the counter. Police think she was alone at the store at the time.

Soy denied starting the fire, and told police through an interpreter that she used a lighter, which she said she always carries, to start a burner to make her husband’s dinner.

She admitted to the insurance company that she owed $70,000 in back taxes.

In addition, Soy owed a $59,000 civil penalty that was due about when the store burned. She owed the penalty because she’d fraudulently accepted food benefits to the effect of $1.2 million.

When the detective investigating asked about the money she owed, Soy said that her daughter also had confronted her about starting the fire.

“My daughter blamed me too,” Soy said. “I don’t care about my money.”

She said she wouldn’t burn a business at which she worked so hard, and added she’d turned down an offer to sell the market for $500,000.