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Plea deal for accused serial arsonists is assailed

BROCKTON — The state fire marshal struck out angrily at a Plymouth Superior Court judge’s decision to offer sentences he deemed too lenient to an alleged serial arsonist and his accomplice if they plead guilty to arson charges Friday.

“I am outraged at the plea deal offered today to this father and stepson team of serial arsonists,” Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a statement Tuesday.

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“Arson is not a victimless crime, and a series of arsons creates an understandable fear that robs people of feeling secure in their own homes, where they should feel safest,” he said. “Arson fires take a toll on our firefighters and are the type of fires that cause the most firefighter injuries. Arson fires tear at the very fabric of a community.”

Prosecutors in Brockton Superior Court had urged Judge Carol Ball Tuesday to sentence Mark Sargent, 46, to up to 12 years in prison for fires he allegedly started at an unoccupied Scituate vacation home, a Marshfield marina, and a West Bridgewater building that was under construction. They also asked that she sentence Sargent’s stepson, Jeanmarie Louis, 24, who was only charged in connection with the West Bridgewater fire, to 4 to 6 years. But Ball said Sargent would serve up to three years in state prison, and Louis, up to 2½ years in a house of correction.

“Arson’s a scary thing,” said Ball, who said that sentencing guidelines suggested shorter sentences are appropriate. Ball denied a request by Sargent’s defense attorney to allow his client to serve the two-to-three-year stretch in a house of correction, saying it was important “to send a message that it’s a state’s prison violation.”

Accused arsonists Mark Sargent (left) and Jeanmarie Louis were flanked by their lawyers, Edward Sharkansky and Jennifer Sunderland, in Plymouth Superior Court Tuesday.

GEORGE RIZER FOR THE GLOBE

Accused arsonists Mark Sargent (left) and Jeanmarie Louis were flanked by their lawyers, Edward Sharkansky and Jennifer Sunderland, in Plymouth Superior Court Tuesday.

The two Middleborough men were arrested following an intensive investigation by State Police assigned to the fire marshal’s office, which took the lead in tracking down suspects in about 30 suspicious fires at commercial or unoccupied structures in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Bridget Norton Middleton, spokeswoman for the Plymouth district attorney, said that 14 of those fires occurred in Plymouth County. Prosecutors have charged Sargent in three of the fires and Louis in one.

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In court Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Suzanne McDonough said the other fires followed a similar pattern and involved Duraflame logs ignited with gasoline.

The other fires remain under investigation, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state fire marshall, and additional charges may be forthcoming.

Mieth noted that after Sargent and Louis were arrested, the arsons stopped.

At least six firefighters suffered minor injuries while battling the blazes in Plymouth, Bristol, Norfolk, and Barnstable counties. Middleton said she could not comment on the judge’s decision until Sargent and Louis decide whether to accept the pleas. Sargent’s attorney said his client would probably accept, but Louis’s attorney said she could not comment on what her client will do.

Sargent’s attorney, Ed Sharkansky, called the sentence “fair . . . under the circumstances.”

“It’s been a difficult time in his life, and he is happy that he is going to have an opportunity to move forward,” said Sharkansky.

He declined to comment on the other fires, saying there are other suspects being looked at.

Two victims, Ralph and Jane Pratt, spoke during the plea hearing about how the burning of their 38-foot boat, the Bampy, affected them.

Ralph Pratt built the boat himself, he said, and the $75,000 in damage jeopardized his commercial fishing and charter business.

Jane Pratt said the emotional toll the fire took on her family was even worse than the financial one. At the time of the fire, she said, the family did not know if they were being targeted.

“We didn’t sleep. I worried about my grandchildren. I worried about them coming to our house next, if our house was going to get burned,” she said. “I still have dreams about being stuck inside the boat, while it’s burning.”

After the hearing, the Pratts said they were unhappy with the proposed sentences.

“It doesn’t seem long enough,” said Ralph Pratt. “[Sargent is] being prosecuted for three fires right now. That’s one year for each fire.”

Both Sargent and Louis would be given credit for the time served since their arrest last January. Ball proposed a sentence of up to 2½ years for Louis, but said only one year would be served, with the balance suspended.

The pair are due back in court Friday at 11 a.m.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.

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