Former Babbitt fire chief sentenced to 5 years for setting fires

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A federal judge sentenced a former fire chief in Babbitt to five years in prison for setting fires in northeastern Minnesota.

The Associated Press reports Ryan Scharber, 30, was sentenced to one year for setting fire to U.S. forest land and five years for attempted arson but will serve both prison terms at the same time.

Scharber pleaded guilty in November to setting several fires in the Superior National Forest in 2011 and 2012 and to attempting to burn a Babbitt resort.

WDIO says at Thursday's sentencing a federal prosecutor pointed out that from 2010 through 2012 there were 39 suspicious fires in the Babbitt area and since Sharber's arrest there have been none.

In court papers filed in advance of the hearing Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dunne argued for a strict sentence, citing a psychiatrist's diagnosis of Scharber as a pyromaniac.

According to WDIO, Scharber said in court Thursday that mental health issues could be to blame for his actions, but denied that he is a pyromaniac.

Northland's News Center reports U.S. District Judge John Tunheim's courtroom was packed with supporters of Scharber. The station says his defense attorney argued for no prison time, maintaining that Scharber is a good person who made mistakes with no malicious intent.

KARE 11 reports that in handing down the sentence Tunheim said Scharber was guilty of an egregious breach of public trust given his position as fire chief. The sentence also calls for Scharber to pay more than $27,000 in restitution.

Scharber's lawyer tells Northland's News Center an appeal of the sentence will be filed within two weeks. The station also says Scharber has requested that he serve his term at the federal prison in Duluth to be close to his family.

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