MILWAUKEE -- The man accused of burning down the Pizza Man restaurant on Milwaukee's east side back in January 2010 appeared in federal court Monday, May 7th -- where jury selection in his trial began.
28-year-old Feras Rahman is charged with intentionally starting the January 19th fire that destroyed a building on North Ave. that housed several businesses, including the Pizza Man restaurant. The charges include arson of a building, resulting in injury, mail fraud, arson to commit mail fraud and two counts of making false statements.
The fire injured several firefighters and caused more than $3 million in damage. In addition to Pizza Man, Cush Lounge, Grecian Delight and several apartments were destroyed in the four-alarm fire.
Prosecutors say Rahman started the fire at his own business, the Black and White Cafe, in a case of insurance fraud. They say Rahman filed a claim in an attempt to collect more than $100,000.
Rahman's attorney says Rahman was not at the scene on the night of the fire, and Rahman has maintained his innocence.
During the jury selection process Monday, one of the concerns expressed by the defense involved the amount of exposure potential jurors may have had to media coverage of the fire. Prosecutors argued that due to the magnitude of the fire, there was a lot of media coverage, but explained that the coverage involved the fire, not Rahman.
The arson by explosion count against Rahman is punishable by up to 40 years in prison, while arson to commit mail fraud carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years, and must run consecutive to any other sentence.
Jury selection was expected to be completed by mid-morning Tuesday, and opening statements could then begin.