Feds Say Livingston Restaurant Fire Was Arson, LIVINGSTON, July 13, 2020 - Restaurant owner, Robert Lance Kuperman, age 73, of Houston, and his long-time associates, David Lee Merryman, age 53, of Houston, and Anthony Richard Matranga, age 35, of Livingston, are facing multiple federal charges stemming from a December 7, 2018 fire that destroyed the Indian Hills Café & Sports Bar in Livingston, Texas. Dozens of firefighters from eight departments in and around Livingston responded to the fire back in 2018. The lake-front restaurant, which was up for sale at the time, was completely destroyed by the fire. A subsequent investigation into the cause of the fire was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF). Sources close to the investigation say that the ATF ruled out the electrical system or an appliance as the ignition source. ATF determined that the ignition source was an “intentional application of open flame”. Investigators say that prior to the restaurant fire, Matranga attempted to enlist the aid of a friend to burn down the restaurant in exchange for a $200,000.00 payment.
Robert Lance Kuperman, 73, of Houston
The restaurant, constructed in 2015, reportedly cost its owner, Robert Kuperman, $3 million to build. Financial records indicate that the restaurant had been operating at a loss each of the two years preceding the fire. In March of 2018, Kuperman fired the real estate agent who initially listed the restaurant for sale. The subsequent agent listed the restaurant at $2.9 million and in October 2018, according to investigators, the price was reduced to $2.4 million, just two months before the fire. After the fire, Kuperman, with the aid of his associate David Merryman, submitted a number of fraudulent documents supporting the loss to his insurance company. Those documents included invoices, a list of contents and a sworn “Proof of Loss”. The documentation, according to Kuperman, represented the replacement costs of his business personal property. The ATF investigation revealed property listed as contents, worth at least $59,000.00, was never purchased by Kuperman.
David Lee Merryman, 53, of Houston
The investigation by ATF also revealed a previous insurance claim involving Kuperman and Merryman. This claim was related to a residential property located at 355 Island Drive in Livingston, Texas. Kuperman purchased the Island Drive property in 2013 for $405,000.00 and in July of 2015, Kuperman submitted an insurance claim for water damage to the house purportedly caused by a water heater leak. In a scheme similar to what was used in the restaurant claim, investigators say Kuperman enlisted the assistance of Merryman, who produced invoices, quotes and estimates representing the out-of-pocket costs associated with replacing damaged personal property. This documentation was incorporated into an invoice prepared by Merryman totaling $170,574.58. Kuperman represented to the insurance company that he would pay the invoice and went as far as to issue a check payable to Merryman in the amount of $170,574.58. Kuperman emailed a copy of the check to the insurance adjuster as proof of payment. The ATF special agent investigating the case contacted the bank that the check was drawn on and confirmed that the check was never cashed by Merryman.
Anthony Richard Matranga, 35, of Livingston
Merryman’s invoice included items such as a $2,900.00 ottoman, a 4,000.00 dresser, an $8,100.00 sofa, an $11,800.00 sofa/chair combo, an $18,900.00 rug, a $7,000.00 table and a $5,100.00 mirror. When an ATF agent contacted the vendors listed in the invoice, they all indicated that the items were never actually purchased by Merryman. Kuperman even got the insurance company to pay Merryman $3,850.00 for his work in compiling the “inventory”. In a three year period, Kuperman had managed to collect, $408,000.00 in insurance proceeds on a house that he initially paid $405,000.00 for. On July 3, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted Kuperman, Merryman and Matranga on charges that include arson, conspiracy and mail fraud. If convicted, the three could face up to 20 years in prison. The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney, Tommy L. Coleman. The investigation is still ongoing and anyone with any information about the fire or other insurance claims submitted by Kuperman and/or Merryman is encouraged to contact law enforcement.
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