A New York City security officer has been charged with starting eight fires at two separate Manhattan hotels. Mariano Barbosa Jr.'s alleged habit of starting fires began in 2009 with the latest occurring this month. He's said to have taken advantage of security positions at the upscale Yotel and SoHo Grand on Manhattan's West Side to light newspapers in corridors and in front of exit doors.
All the fires were quickly brought under control by the New York Fire Department (NYFD). One fire from February did however result in two firefighters sustaining minor injuries, the NYFD told the New York Times. Barbosa was reported to be on duty during the eight blazes, all of which occurred on high floors during late night or early morning hours.
The security officer's role in the fires became an issue when he provided inconsistent answers during a questioning with the NYFD, according to reports. On Sunday, Barbosa was charged with arson, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, as was reported by the Associated Press.
Why did Barbosa allegedly start the fires? Early reporting has varying accounts, but all sources say Barbosa was motivated by the pedestrian desire to slack off. Barbosa wanted to "produce a less active work environment for himself," was how the NYFD put it in a statement. An unnamed FDNY source told New York's Daily News Barbosa knew the Yotel would need to "be shut down for repairs," freeing him to relax in "his comp room, boozing it up."
A separate fire official told the New York Times Barbosa had an axe to grind with hotel patrons. According to the official, Barbosa "desired that the incidents would be blamed on the clientele." And so, Barbosa's alleged hope was that hotel officials would respond by "curtail[ing] the parties, and the venues would be more manageable."
"It's disturbing that an individual charged with the safety of hotel occupants would callously endanger their lives - and the lives of firefighters - for personal gain," the fire commissioner, Salvatore J. Cassano, said in a statement.
Barbosa is said to be cooperating with authorities, but his attorney pointed out to the Daily News no video proof exists of his client starting the fires. And his wife said the charges don't align with his devotion to work. "He even sleeps at the hotel so he can be there for work," Leslie Martinez, 27, told the daily newspaper. She and her husband reside in Union City, New Jersey, and have three children below the age of 9, two of whom are autistic.
One of Barbosa's coworkers at Yotel was surprised by the allegations. "He was a normal person," the worker told the Daily News.
Whether Barbosa actually started the fires for such juvenile reasons remains to be seen. But acts of violence in the workplace are on the rise in the recession, as AOL Jobs has reported. According to workplace violence expert Larry Barton, threats of violence in the workplace were up last year by roughly 28 percent.
Barton attributes the uptick to the economic crisis.
"Many of us thought the [economic downturn] was going to be a short-term hiccup, and so that gave us temporary comfort," he told AOL Jobs last year. "But it has become an ulcer, and with a lot more anxiety about cutbacks, people wondering, 'Am I next?,' you would think people would lie low and do their work. But that's not the case, it seems people become more provocative."