BELLEVUE, Wash. — Prosecutors say a Bellevue, Washington, dentist, who was facing eviction for not paying rent, tried to burn his office down last week by lighting medical masks and gowns on fire that health care workers have been desperately trying to get their hands on during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Mohammad Rafie of A to Z Dental in Bellevue has been charged with first-degree arson for allegedly starting several fires on March 23 inside his 116th Ave. NE office that’s located in a complex housing 28 businesses.
Investigators say some of the offices, including the one directly below A to Z Dental, had people inside when Rafie started the fires but luckily no one was hurt thanks to sprinklers that helped keep the fire from spreading.
“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,” said King County prosecutors in charging papers. “The defendant’s actions in this case reflect a desperate man willing to put the lives of others at risk to get what he wants.”
Crime scene pictures obtained by KIRO-TV showed one of the burned boxes of medical masks and supplies. A woman who works in a medical office in the same complex as A to Z Dental said she saw investigators with a K-9 show up to process the crime scene but did not want to publicly identified.
"That's really sad,” said the woman. “There's so many people in need of the masks and gowns and everything right now and having that kind of stuff destroyed is just absolutely terrible."
Water from the sprinklers inside the dental office started flooding the orthodontic practice directly below and even damaged the ceiling in the garage. The orthodontist, who was inside his office at the time, got out safely, according to charging papers and reportedly saw Rafie walking out of the building as the office burned.
The dentist then left the scene and later returned, charging papers said. He allegedly told investigators the fire was an accident and that he dropped an oxygen tank while cleaning that caught fire.
Firefighters were immediately suspicious of the fire and noted to investigators the obvious smell of an accelerant, similar to lighter fluid. Charging papers say investigators learned from the building manager that the dentist had been a tenant there since 2017 and was in the process of being evicted because he had not paid rent since December 2019.
Court documents state Rafie is also suspected in a 2017 attempted arson at his old office. Investigators say a fire was intentionally set in the back of that office on the last day of Rafie operating his dental business at that location but he was never arrested.
Bellevue police said that case is still under review.
Jail records show Rafie is now out on bond after last week’s arrest. He did not immediately return KIRO’s request for comment.