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Texas man who said racists targeted his home now facing arson charges after fatal house fire

A Texas man who said his rental property was racially targeted at least three times this year has been charged with first-degree arson after officials said a fire set there this summer killed two people, including one of the suspect's relatives.

Mario Roberson, 50, was indicted on the felony charge handed up Monday by a grand jury in connection to the June 10 fatal blaze, San Jacinto County assistant district Attorney Rob Freyer told USA TODAY.

The indictment came on the heels of a more than five-month long investigation by the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office and the FBI, officials said.

According to the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office, the blaze took place at Roberson's rental property in a subdivision in the small community of Waterwood, a town about 85 miles northeast of Houston.

A third person was also injured in the fire, said sheriff's Chief Deputy Tim Kean, whose agency assisted local volunteer fire departments with the fire.

"Racism, power, hungriness, money has gotten us to this place," an emotional Roberson told local ABC13 the afternoon of the fire.

The victims' bodies were not discovered until the next morning, Fryer said, prompting state arson officials to open a criminal investigation.

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Sheriff's office: Insurance fraud likely motive

Sheriff's investigators believe the blaze was intentionally set because Roberson was trying to fraudulently collect insurance money. The investigation into the racially charged incidents at Roberson's home before the fire remains ongoing, authorities said.

Lt. Charles Dougherty with the sheriff's office criminals investigation unit told USA TODAY Roberson was having "some issues with the homeowner association" in the community where his rental is located.

"He was indicted on allegations he hired someone to set it on fire for insurance fraud purposes," Dougherty said Tuesday.

As of Tuesday Roberson was not in custody, but Kean said a warrant was being issued for his arrest.

Roberson could not be reached Tuesday and it was not immediately known if he had obtained an attorney.

'We don't like your kind'

Just over a month before the fire, on May 8, Kean said Roberson filed a report with the sheriff's department and said racial slurs were spray painted on his door of the rental property.

During an on-camera interview with Roberson, he said someone tagged the home with racist graffiti.

"We don't like your kind," the message, painted on a door of the home read at the time, according to photos taken by the outlet.

Roberson told ABC13 the message appeared two days after a heated homeowners' association meeting in which he cited "an ongoing dispute over short-term rentals."

"People are being terrible because of the hatred in their heart," Roberson told the outlet at the time.

In the interviews, Roberson complained about neighborhood issues including his trash not being picked up while his neighbors' trash was.

Then, on May 26, another report filed with the same agency shows Roberson told investigators someone shot into a window at his home and believed the act was racially motivated, Kean said.

A rock was later found by the window, Kean said, leading investigators to believe, "someone was mowing and the rock was supposedly kicked up by a lawn mower."

The fatal fire

Just over two weeks later, Kean said, the sheriff's office and local volunteer firefighters responded to Roberson's rental property after the fire broke out.

In body camera footage obtained by ABC 13, Roberson tells authorities he believes the fire was racially motivated.

"The neighbors called me. I kept hearing the phone ring. She said, 'Mario, your house is on fire.' I thought she was playing. She said, 'Your truck.' I come over here, and I didn't expect to see this," the outlet reported. "Matter of fact, when this went down, I know y'all heard about this racist stuff that was sprayed on my door."

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Alleged hate crime claims remain under investigation

On Tuesday, Fryer said the May claims made by Roberson remained under investigation.

The prosecutor said he could not comment on Roberson's claim the June fire stemmed from a hate crime.

Under Texas law, Roberson faces five years to life if convicted of the first-degree arson crime, Fryer said.

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at and follow her on X @nataliealund.

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