Serial Arsonist Deemed Eligible For Early Prison Release

Scott Robert Schwartz [Photo courtesy AZ Dept. Corrections]

A serial arsonist sentenced to six years in prison for a January 2016 fire at a Sierra Vista trailer park will walk out of prison later this year after less than five years due to state sentencing rules and his eligibility for an Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) early release program.

Scott Robert Schwartz, 53, is currently serving his fourth prison term related to arsons of commercial structures and vehicles around Sierra Vista dating back to 2006. He is slated for release from the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson on Dec. 11, just shy of five years into his sentence.

That has one victim of Schwartz’s 2016 fire concerned for her safety and that of everyone in the Sierra Vista area.

It was Maxine Nelson’s vehicle that Schwartz burned in 2016 at the Cloud 9 Mobile Home Park. He was admittedly drunk and upset at Nelson after an argument about missing personal property.

“He said he was going to get even with me,” Nelson told Arizona Daily Independent. “He got to my car but that won’t be enough for him.”

In fact, the Sierra Vista Police Department report mentions a witness told investigators after the fire that he heard Schwartz mention Nelson and say he planned “to burn her.”

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Court records show Schwartz was arrested in connection to several arson fires in 2001 but for reasons unknown those charges were dropped at the time. He was later suspected of several vehicle fires in 2006 and 2007 but wasn’t arrested until 2009 when tests were completed of crime scene evidence.

Among the evidence was Schwartz’s blood found inside one of the vehicles and handprints. Phone records also placed Schwartz in front of a building where one of the fires occurred.

Schwartz later pleaded guilty to a total of four felonies in two cases and was sentenced in March 2009 to a total of 4.5-years in prison.

Then in January 2016, Sierra Vista police and fire personnel responded to the vehicle fire at Cloud 9 on the city’s eastside. Firefighters were concerned with the fire spreading to other vehicles and residences at the trailer park, which is home to many of the city’s lower-income residents.

An eyewitness identified Schwartz as the man seen running from the area as the vehicle burst into flames, and police found evidence related to arson in his possession, according to SVPD.

Schwartz was charged with two counts of arson and entered into another plea deal to resolve the case without a trial. Schwartz told the judge he blamed his actions on a decades-old drinking problem and anger issues.

This time Schwartz received a six-year prison term, the maximum under sentencing guidelines in 2016. He must serve at least 85 percent of the term in the physical custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) before being eligible for ADC community supervision, what is commonly referred to as parole.

But Schwartz is also listed as eligible for an ADC transitional release program which gets select inmates released three months earlier. So with 121 days credit for the time Schwartz spent in jail prior to sentencing, his expected release from custody is now Dec. 11.

“That’s too early for all that he’s done to my family,” Nelson said. “He promised to get revenge against me but I can’t afford to move. Where would I go?”

Schwartz was also ordered to pay Nelson and a family member nearly $2,000 in restitution for the 2016 fire. It’s unclear how Schwartz can pay that given he still owes more than $14,000 in restitution to the victims of his earlier crimes.

“We need the money, now more than ever,” Nelson said. “But what can I do if he doesn’t pay?”

In addition, Schwartz must serve a four-year term of regular supervised probation the Cochise County’s Adult Probation Department. However, it is not the intensive supervision level recommended by probation officials when Schwartz was sentenced in 2016.

“I don’t understand why the judge didn’t think a probation officer should follow him closer” after prison, Nelson said. “The judge has put everyone -me and my family and anyone in Sierra Vista- at danger.”

Nelson says she is somewhat comforted in knowing Schwartz could be resentenced for up to 16 years in prison if he violates any condition of probation during the next four years. But she worries innocent people will get hurt the next time Schwartz gets drunk or angry.

“I really don’t think it’ll just be a car he sets fire to next time,” she said.  “But I sure hope I’m wrong.”