Ellendale couple pleads not guilty to arson

Published 9:39 pm Monday, October 7, 2013

OWATONNA — An Ellendale couple accused of starting their home on fire almost two years ago entered provisional not guilty pleas on Monday.

Mark Allan Misgen, 42, was charged in May in Steele County District Court with one count of first-degree arson of a dwelling and one count of insurance fraud. His wife, Sara Ellen Degen-Misgen, 40, was charged with aiding and abetting first-degree arson and insurance fraud.

A sign proclaims that rewards are offered to anyone who has information on the suspected arson at an Ellendale home that burned twice on the morning of Dec. 7, 2011. The sign was hung in February of 2012. --File photo

A sign proclaims that rewards are offered to anyone who has information on the suspected arson at an Ellendale home that burned twice on the morning of Dec. 7, 2011. The sign was hung in February of 2012. –File photo

Court documents allege the Misgens started their house, at 403 W. Fifth Ave. in Ellendale, on fire on Dec. 7, 2011, and then four months later reportedly submitted insurance claims for $395,000 for the damages. The home was a total loss.

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The two are facing the felony charges after investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Steele County Sheriff’s Office reportedly found inconsistencies in the couple’s statements regarding what had taken place the night of the fires. Authorities note the couple was in the middle of financial difficulties at the time of the blaze.

According to court records, they owed almost $300,000, between their house mortgage and their two businesses, Maggio’s Pizza in Ellendale and Mystic Pizza in Lonsdale. They had a personal judgement against them for $36,000 from Produce State Bank in Albert Lea, and Misgen owed almost $8,000 in child support payments. He was required to pay $150 each month for a restitution obligation in Dakota County in a case where authorities said he used customer credit card numbers through two Ellendale businesses to create fake credit cards. He had been scheduled for a probation violation hearing Dec. 21, 2011, for failure to pay the restitution.

Court documents state Ellendale firefighters were initially called to the house at 1:53 a.m. Dec. 7, 2011, after receiving a report that the house was full of smoke. Misgen had just reportedly returned to the residence.

Court documents state when firefighters arrived they found a small fire in the kitchen, which they were able to extinguish. They ventilated the house and then left at about 2:45 a.m. after it was deemed safe.

At 3:53 a.m., firefighters responded back to the house after receiving a 911 call from a passer-by who observed flames coming from the windows of the house. By the time firefighters arrived, the main floor and second floor of the north side of the house were engulfed in flames. No one was home.

Investigators found that the two fires were not related.

Court documents stated Degen-Misgen took the couple’s children to McDonald’s in Albert Lea that night at 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. and then later to Owatonna to purchase duct tape. The kids stayed out past 1 a.m., even though they had to attend school later that morning. Documents states after the first fire was reported the children were taken to a relative’s house.

Degen-Misgen later admitted in an insurance claim that she purchased isopropyl alcohol in Owatonna, which can be used as an accelerant for fire.

Court documents state a neighbor told authorities that they saw the Misgens’ vehicle pull up across the street from the house at about 2:45 a.m. after firefighters had left from the first fire, and Misgen was spotted talking to the occupant in the car and then running to the house. The neighbor said he could see Misgen “monkeying around” inside, and he reportedly left at about 3:15 a.m.

Misgen is being represented by lawyer Richard Swanson of the Richard L. Swanson Law Office in Chaska, and Degen-Misgen by Ryan Wood of Wood Law Firm in Bloomington. Both lawyers will next decide whether to contest any of the evidence or probable cause in the case.

Steele County District Court Judge Joseph Bueltel ordered the Misgens have their mugshots and fingerprints taken at the Steele County jail within the next two weeks. They were released on their promise to appear at their next court hearing, which has not yet been set.