A Bellevue dentist who was being evicted from his office for failing to pay rent is accused of dousing medical gowns and masks with lighter fluid or some other accelerant and setting fires in his exam and X-ray rooms, according to King County prosecutors.
Mohammad “Matt” Rafie, who operated A to Z Dental in a second-floor office at the Bellgrove Medical Park at 1515 116th Ave. N.E, was charged Thursday with first-degree arson in connection with the fires set March 23, court records show. He was arrested at the scene and posted $25,000 bail the next day, according to jail records. Prosecutors later requested a higher bail amount, and Rafie posted $100,000 bail Thursday, court records say.
Rafie, 53, lives in Kirkland with his elderly father, according to charging papers. He did not return a phone message left at his residence Tuesday. Rafie is scheduled to be arraigned May 7.
“The defendant’s actions in this case reflect a desperate man willing to put others at risk to get what he wants,” Deputy Prosecutor Aubony Burns wrote in charging papers, noting the three-story medical park houses 28 separate medical and dental offices, some of which were occupied at the time of the fires.
“Also concerning were the items the defendant used to ignite the fire — medical masks and gowns,” Burns wrote. “A medical professional himself, the defendant’s choice to use these precious items in the middle of a worldwide pandemic adds to the appalling nature of his crimes.”
According to the charges:
A Bellevue police arson detective arrived at the fire scene just before 7:30 p.m. on March 23 and consulted with a Bellevue police officer and an arson investigator from the Bellevue Fire Department, who told the detective firefighters had extinguished three separate fires inside the dental office. Firefighters reported that it appeared the fires had been intentionally set and the office reeked of accelerants. A police officer was posted at the door with instructions not to let anyone but firefighters inside.
Court records show the fire started around 5 p.m. and Rafie was arrested at the scene just before 8 p.m.
When firefighters arrived, they found a box of medical supplies on fire in one corner of the office and put the blaze out. The sprinkler system activated and a large amount of water poured into the office and parking garage below A to Z Dental, the charges say. A second box of medical supplies, including gowns and masks, was found on fire in the middle drawer of a filing cabinet about 20 feet away from the first fire. Firefighters found a third box of supplies on fire in the office’s X-ray room, next to an open canister of oxygen, and put that fire out too.
While the fires were being extinguished, the charges say Rafie approached other fire-department personnel who were outside in the parking lot and told them he was cleaning his office and claimed he’d knocked over an oxygen tank, accidentally starting the fire. He left the scene for nearly 1 1/2 hours and was arrested after he returned. The detective looked into Rafie’s car and spotted a lighter but no cigarettes, the charges say.
During the investigation, the detective learned Rafie, who had moved his practice into the building in 2017, hadn’t paid rent since December and was being evicted.
According to the charges, an orthodontist who works in an office below Rafie’s went outside when the building’s fire alarm sounded and said Rafie mumbled something to him about knocking over a tank of nitrous gas, which Rafie claimed caught fire. The orthodontist’s office sustained significant smoke and water damage and water from his office caused ceiling tiles and insulation in the parking garage to collapse to the ground.
Police later served search warrants on Rafie’s house and office. At Rafie’s home, a police dog trained to detect accelerants found accelerants on a shirt, pants and shoes that were inside a suitcase with other clothes, according to charges. At the dental office, the dog detected accelerants in every room, especially on the boxes of medical supplies that had been set on fire.
A 5-gallon water jug found in the exam room is believed to have been used to transport an accelerant to the office and has been sent to the State Patrol Crime Lab for testing, the charges say. A butane lighter and two empty detergent containers were also found in the office.
The detective also found documents in Rafie’s house and office indicating he is having financial problems, including evidence that Rafie is “an avid gambler” at area casinos, the charges say.
“The follow-up investigation will determine if this information (is) relevant and leads to further evidence and/or motive for the fire,” the detective wrote in charging papers.