Food Stamps Lead to Arrest of Serial Dumpster Arsonist

ost people, when they get mad, take a deep breath, count to 10, or even punch the occasional wall. Not 33-year-old Anthony Gray -- he sets things on fire.

According to court documents obtained by New Times, Gray's been charged with five counts of arson for a series of dumpster fires in a Phoenix park over the last several months.

Between March 4, and last Wednesday, there were five fires in or near the Los Olivos Park. The target of the fires: city owned dumpsters.

Following one of the fires, in a dumpster outside of the park's Senior Center causing more than $1,000 worth of damage, Phoenix police installed surveillance cameras above several bait dumpsters -- in which they'd put flammable materials -- in the park.

Last Wednesday, about 4 a.m., a man was seen setting a dumpster full of cardboard and other flammable materials on fire. Cops were unable to identify him based on the surveillance footage, but they recognized a bag he was carrying as one from a local Quick Trip convenience store.

Police went to the Quick Trip and asked to see its surveillance footage on the night of the fire, and sure enough, a man fitting the description of the suspect -- and wearing the same clothes -- was seen purchasing some food with a food stamp debit card. A big mistake.

To obtain a food-stamp debit card, a person must hand over their personal information to the government, which keeps it on file. Police were able to match the card used to purchase food at the gas station to Gray, who was arrested at his home shortly after.

Gray spilled his guts to detectives. He admitted setting the fires in the dumpsters and said he'd been a "fire-setter" since he was 17. He told police he often starts fires when he gets mad, or forgets to take medication for an unspecified mental illness.

Gray was released on $15,000 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.