3 Who Reported Hate Crime Held In Insurance Scheme -- Tacoma Police Arrest Gay Tenants Who Alleged Home Was Trashed

TACOMA - Two men and one woman have been arrested in a scheme that allegedly netted them more than $50,000 in insurance money and thousands more in contributions and goods from a sympathetic public.

Eric L. Sturgis, 26; Lee E. Brovold, 24; and Michelle L. Murray, 24, told police they returned from a gay-pride festival July 31 to find their home vandalized and slogans, swastikas and death threats spray-painted on the wall. City authorities called it the worst hate crime in the history of the city.

Today, police spokesman Jim Mattheis called the alleged fraud a "betrayal of public trust."

The men were arrested Saturday night in Pierce County as they attempted to flee the state and go to Omaha. They were booked into Pierce County Jail for investigation of first-degree theft, malicious mischief and obstructing a public servant. Murray was arrested at her Tacoma apartment on suspicion of first-degree theft and malicious mischief.

At the time of the alleged hate crime, Sturgis and Brovold reported that their antiques, Oriental rugs, a recliner rocker and automotive equipment had been stolen. They also said 50 pounds of rice was spread across the floor, mixed with crushed glass and paint. Water pipes had been broken and water was pouring from the foundation.

Tacoma police estimated the damage to be $80,000. Sturgis and Murray had renters' insurance. The landlord learned his property insurance did not cover vandalism.

The three told police the vandalism followed threatening phone calls and a rock thrown through the window with the message: "Get out fags."

After police went on TV to request information, several informants came forward.

Police obtained a search warrant and the missing items were found Saturday in a large storage locker. Also found were items donated by a caring public, Mattheis said.