Suspected NoHo Firebug Identified as Former Marine Imprisoned in Japan for Arson

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

A man arrested on suspicion of torching a motor home in North Hollywood on Tuesday was suspected in setting 20 or more recent arson fires in the area, and authorities identified him as a former Marine who was jailed for five years in Japan for setting restaurants on fire there.

Kurt Billie, 34, of North Hollywood was arrested in the wake of a 4 a.m. fire in the 7500 block of Troost Avenue, Los Angeles police spokesman Richard French said.

The Air Force Times identified him a former Marine who spent five years in prison for setting fire to several restaurants in Okinawa.

Investigators were following Billie and arrested him near Lankershim Boulevard and Valerio Street.

A series of vehicle and structure fires broke out early July 21 through 24, starting around 3 a.m. each day. The fires broke between Lankershim and Laurel Canyon boulevards and Vanowen Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

Billie was jailed at the Van Nuys Station in lieu of $250,000 bail.

Sentenced 10 Years Ago

According to a Kyodo News report on Aug. 3, 2001, Japanese prosecutors had demanded a seven-year sentence for Billie, then a 24-year-old lance corporal posted at Camp Hansen in central Okinawa. He had pleaded guilty to the charges.

Judge Soichi Hayashida said in handing down the ruling: “He committed arson to escape from reality after indulging himself in drinking alcohol. He must bear heavy criminal responsibility as he committed the vicious crime out of selfish and outrageous reasons, and the court cannot ignore the anxiety he caused the local community.”

In January 2001, Billie used a lighter to set fire to a restaurant in a bar area of the town of Chatan, burning the walls of the restaurant and another store. Five days later he set fire to a blanket and other items in the same area, causing partial or total destruction to five stores.

The Marine Corps handed Billie over to Japanese prosecutors after the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted him. The uproar in Okinawa over crimes involving U.S. military personnel prompted swift action on the case by both Japanese and U.S. authorities.

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