A fired shift manager at Qdoba Mexican Grill pleaded guilty Monday to setting the fire that destroyed the restaurant where he had worked.
Bennie C. Davis, 21, accepted a plea agreement to one count of malicious arson of a building used in interstate commerce. Davis would serve five years in prison and three years of supervised release under the terms of the plea agreement.
The guilty plea came the day before Davis was scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Lexington.
U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood scheduled sentencing for Jan. 29.
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Davis acknowledged in court that he set the April fire that gutted the Qdoba on East Tiverton Way.
Lexington firefighters were called to Qdoba at 1:15 a.m. April 25. The building was heavily damaged, but there were no injuries. No one was in the building when firefighters arrived.
The building was a total loss, and damage was estimated at $750,000, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
One fire was started on a shelving unit under the dining room cash register, and the other was started at the manager’s desk and cubicle area, the affidavit said. The remnants of the safe, which was found open and its contents removed, was in the debris of the manager’s cubicle.
After determining that the cause was arson, investigators interviewed the current restaurant manager, who said the restaurant key is normally retrieved and locks are normally changed upon the dismissal of a shift manager.
In this case, however, the locks on the doors weren’t changed after Davis was dismissed in February, nor had the safe’s combination been changed.
In his interview with agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Davis admitted that he entered the Qdoba and that he was “prepared to ‘rob’ the store. Davis stated he used a roommate’s key, which he took without permission, to access the building,” the affidavit said.
“Davis stated he had access to the money safe while he was a shift leader and, as such, remembers the electronic keypad safe code number sequence used to unlock the safe and accurately described the keypad sequence to do so,” the affidavit said.
Davis “had motive to commit the arson of Qdoba, as he was angry with Qdoba for his termination as manager. Additionally, Bennie Davis retained the access to the safe code and subsequently opened the safe and removed cash, coins and currency before or during the arson,” the affidavit said.