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Fire chiefs protest leniency in sentences for arson spree

BROCKTON — More than a dozen fire chiefs and firefighters assailed Friday what they deemed lax punishment meted out to a Middleborough man and his stepson for their roles in an arson spree that terrorized Southeastern Massachusetts over several months.

The fire chiefs watched with disapproval from a courtroom gallery in Plymouth Superior Court as Judge Carol Ball sentenced Mark
W. Sargent, 46, and his stepson Jeanmarie Louis, 24, to up to three years and to 2½ years, respectively, in state prison.

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Louis will spend one year in jail and the balance of the remaining time will be suspended. Both men were ordered to complete three years of probation once they are released.

Ball defended the punishment, saying the sentences fall in the middle of guidelines established for determining prison time for their crimes. She said she also considered their clean criminal records.

Mark Sargent and his stepson Jeannarie Louis were sentenced in Plymouth Superior Court by Judge Carol Ball.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Mark Sargent and his stepson Jeannarie Louis were sentenced in Plymouth Superior Court by Judge Carol Ball.

“The constitution comes into play,” Ball said. “They can only be punished for the crimes they are convicted of.”

The pair had been charged in connection with some of the fires from an arson spree that injured at least six firefighters in Plymouth, Bristol, Norfolk, and Barnstable counties.

Sargent pleaded guilty to charges that he set fire to an unoccupied Scituate vacation home, six boats in a Marshfield marina, and a West Bridgewater building that was under construction in late 2012 and early 2013. Louis, who was only charged in connection with the West Bridgewater fire, also admitted his role in that blaze.

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“The situation here deserved a more serious sentence,” said Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz. “They are dangerous, they put people’s lives at risk — firefighters, the regular community — and I think they needed to do more time than that.”

Cruz’s office had sought a sentence of up to 12 years for Sargent and four to six years for Louis.

“The message that was sent by the judge today was a message that the crime of arson is equivalent to a misdemeanor,” said Whitman’s fire chief, Timothy J. Grenno. “We were there to mainly support the investigators, who we feel were basically slapped in the face doing their jobs.”

Ed Sharkansky, Sargent’s attorney, said the sentence “was not a sweetheart deal.” He added he could not explain why Sargent set the fires, but disclosed that his client struggled with alcohol.

Authorities are still investigating unsolved fires, which may result in more criminal charges, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan.

Sargent and Louis were arrested following an intensive investigation by State Police assigned to Coan’s office, which took the lead in tracking down suspects in about 30 suspicious fires in Southeastern Massachusetts from October 2012 to January 2013. Fourteen of the fires, including the three that Sargent and Louis pleaded guilty to, occurred in Plymouth County, said a Cruz spokeswoman.

Sharkansky said Sargent is concerned about being considered a suspect in the unsolved fires. He added other suspects were presented to a grand jury before Sargent and Louis were charged, including one who was captured on video at the scene of other fires.

“He’s concerned that he’s been talked about as a suspect in these other fires, but there is another suspect,” Sharkansky said. A spokesman for Cruz declined to comment on Sharkansky’s account.

Ralph and Jane Pratt, whose 38-foot boat, Bampy, sustained $75,000 in damage in a fire, attended the sentencing along with John Taylor, who is an owner of the marina where the blaze was set.

“I don’t understand the sentencing guidelines at all,” Ralph Pratt said. “If those were the guidelines and that’s what she followed, then I think the guidelines need to be changed. Somewhere along the lines you have to consider the value of the destruction to property and the effect on people.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.

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