The Friendship lobsterman whose feud with another fisherman led him and his sternmen to torch the other man’s Waldoboro boathouse has pleaded no contest to arson more than six years after the fire.
James R. Simmons, 43, entered the plea at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset on Tuesday, Nov. 27. A second charge of arson was dismissed. He will be sentenced in January.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald said the sentence will likely be four years with all but five months suspended, plus three years of probation.
James Simmons’ co-defendants, Fredrick A. Campbell, 34, of Friendship, who set the fire, and Jeffrey P. Luce, 40, of Whitefield, whose arrest for an unrelated theft led to a break in the arson investigation in 2014, have already pleaded guilty to arson.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Fernald said James Simmons and another commercial fisherman, Donald Simmons, were involved in an ongoing feud involving hundreds of cut trap lines. The men are not related.
On June 10, 2012, arson destroyed two structures owned by James Simmons, which he used for his fishing business, Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office investigator Kenneth MacMaster said in an affidavit.
James Simmons accused Donald Simmons of setting the fires, according to the affidavit. Less than two weeks later, on June 21, 2012, arson destroyed Donald Simmons’ Waldoboro boathouse and a 36-foot lobster boat inside, owned by Danny Reed Jr., of Friendship. The boat was not insured.
James Simmons, Campbell, and Luce were indicted about two years later.
Luce pleaded guilty to one count of class A arson and about a dozen charges from unrelated cases Oct. 1, 2015. Campbell entered an Alford guilty plea to one count of arson July 24.
James Simmons’ probation conditions would prohibit his possession of alcohol or illegal drugs, dangerous weapons, and incendiary devices, with the exception of one lighter at his home in order to light his wood stove and to facilitate his legal use of marijuana. He could keep gasoline at home for employment purposes.
He and his co-defendants will have to pay restitution, possibly $200,000 for the boat and $65,000 for the boathouse. There may be a restitution hearing in January.