Government moves to dismiss arson charges in plea agreement
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
After being accused of setting fire to the Rent-A-Center in Liberal, former store manager Shivantha Kulatunga has pleaded guilty to the theft of a laptop computer and aggravated identity theft in exchange for the government requesting the charges of arson and other counts be dismissed.
When the fire occurred in the strip mall Jan. 4, 2010, Coronado Plaza owner John Mallon hired his own investigators to determine if arson was the cause of the fire. His investigators concluded that the fire was arson.
The fire consumed the Rent-A-Center, its contents, and caused damage to neighboring businesses in the same strip.
“It’s a great disappointment to me that a guy could disrupt a number of businesses and cause property and income loss of several million dollars and be charged with wire fraud and identity theft and not arson,” Mallon said following the plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Wichita.
Kulatunga appeared Wednesday in federal court to plead guilty to wire fraud and identity theft a day before his jury trial was set to begin.
Kulatunga admitted that he took a Toshiba computer in Dec. 2009 without paying for it and gave it to his girlfriend as a Christmas present. He then entered another person’s name in the store’s computer system as renting the computer without the person’s knowledge or consent.
Prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 36 months in federal prison.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom commended the Liberal Police Department, the Liberal Fire Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lind for their work on the case.