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Posted on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Man sentenced to probation for Thompson Block arson in Ypsilanti

By Heidi Fenton

This story has been updated with additional information from the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's office.

Jacob Popiolek was sentenced Tuesday to 5 years of probation for setting fire to the historic Thompson Block building in Ypsilanti.

Judge Donald Shelton told Popiolek, 21, he has a choice to take his future on a positive or a negative path, depending on whether he refrains from criminal activity after being spared from prison.

“This is a serious offense. Arson is a serious offense,” he said.

Police arrested Popiolek several weeks after the Sept. 23, 2009, fire that caused significant damage to the vacant building located in Depot Town. No one was injured.


Fire gutted the Thompson Block building in September 2009

Popiolek was among several people trespassing in the building just before the fire started, police said.

He was the only one charged in the case and could have faced up to 10 years in prison for the arson charges.

Instead, Popiolek was allowed to serve probation only. He also must participate in a bootcamp program through the Michigan Department of Corrections and will be required to obtain his high school GED or an equivalent, and provide proof of full-time employment after obtaining the degree. He must pay court costs, restitution and attorney fees totaling just more than $140,000. Popiolek will remain in the county jail until he is transferred for participation in boot camp.

At Tuesday’s sentencing, Developer Stewart Beal, whose company Historic Equities Fund 1 LLC owns the building, told the court of troubles he has faced since the fire. He recommended Shelton not sentence Popiolek to prison, but instead require him to complete several hours of community service.

He said repairs made to the building to bring it back to its former condition came at a cost of nearly $1.2 million.

“This was the most psychologically and emotionally damaging experience of my life,” he said.

Popiolek asked he be given a second chance to make amends for his mistakes.

“I just want to apologize to anyone and everyone I set back,” he said. “I want to make things right.”

Shelton gave two reasons for issuing an “extended” probationary period: Popiolek’s lack of a criminal record, and to show “I’m serious about the restitution order.”

“This was fortunate for everyone, that it was not a building that was occupied at the time,” he said.

Heidi Fenton covers police and courts for Reach her at or 734-623-4673. You also can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Thu, Jul 14, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

This story in not entirely accurate. Mr. Popiolek is currently in the county jail. He was remanded at his sentencing to the county jail to await transfer to the SAI program (prison bootcamp). The claim that he received "probation only" misinforms the reader.

Jamie Riddle

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 11:59 p.m.

Really? 5 years probation? This building was a historic building that had lots of history, and this yahoo only gets probation. Looks like the justice system works again. I have no criminal record, but I bet if I went and burned down my place of employment (used as an example building), I would get more than probation.Because of that guys this area has been an eyesore with all the scaffolding and the building looking like something that came out of Detroit. Not to mention all the costs associated with the fire, fire department, demolishing what was un-salvageable, and rebuilding. Wow I just wish there was a way I could ruin a part of history and not have any consequences. I guess I should make sure my Judge is Donald Shelton.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

Good call by Judge Shelton. Although I must admit Popiolek has commited a serious crime and should sit in jaiil but if he is willing to change paths and give back to society, this is good judgement. After all, the prisons are crowded enough already. Probation with a tether sounds good.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

I guess for some it all comes down to money--never the pain and suffering of the victims...

average joe

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

It's the $140,000 due the court I can't get over. How long does he have to pay this bill off?


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

"Precisely As Intended"


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Ok, so if he's not getting prison time, let him get his GED, teach him a building trade and put him to work restoring the building. Also, I like the idea of making him (and all others found guilty of arson) to spend some time in the burn unit at UMH. Maybe they should make him assist the nurses in debriding a patient and then write a statement about the experience.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 3:56 p.m.

I so totally agree!! The debriding process often results in screams that you wish you never heard!


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

Fires are unpredictable and easily get out of control--for a lot of reasons, such as a sudden wind gust out of nowhere. No matter what the fire dept. did or did not do, arson is a crime--it's not a "controlled burn", it's not playing with firecrackers. No matter that a citizen recommends to the judge to go easy on the perp, I believe probation wasn't an appropriate choice. He at least should have been ordered to meet with the victims of arson and their families , and escorted by law enforcement to see patients currently residing in the burn unit intensive care at U of M Hospital. If that occurred, there might be a chance the memories of seeing these victims would serve as a deterrent to repeating his crime. How many of these readers have witnessed the suffering and deaths of burn victims? If you have, you NEVER forget it!

Grand Marquis de Sade

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 3:50 p.m.

I was referring to the current condition of the building... not the fire itself. I CERTAINLY was not excusing the actions of the arsonist (quite the opposite). I'm sorry if my opening remarks didn't make that clear. It's true that fires are extremely unpredictable. What IS totally predictable is fire spreading when you do nothing to suppress it which is what the YFD did. Maybe they were just following protocol but Pittsfield Twp had water on it about 2 minutes after arriving on the scene. Unfortunately by this time it had reached the level of a raging inferno.

Grand Marquis de Sade

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 1:22 p.m.

I understand people's antipathy toward Stewart Beal and, by extension, this building particularly in its current state. Having been a witness to the fire, however (patio at Sidetrack), I can tell you that the Ypsilanti Fire Dept is as culpable as he is. It took 45 minutes and a Pittsfield Twp pumper to put so much as a DROP of water on this fire during which time the blaze grew from one which appeared to be confined to one room into the conflagration you see pictured above. As far as Mr. Popioliek is concerned... Given the extent to which this blaze was allowed to rage out of control, and the extremely close proximity (maybe 7 or 8 feet) to occupied wood frame dwellings, I think his punishment is rather light considering the huge potential for injury to people and property. Having said that hopefully he'll be able to use this break to make some positive changes in his life.

Grand Marquis de Sade

Thu, Jul 14, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

Unsubstantiated and unattributed? There were plenty of other eyewitnesses who saw the exact same thing I did including several members of my own family. I don't know what your problem is with Mr. Ingersoll, Murrow's Ghost, but I don't appreciate your insinuation that I'm spinning a tale. If you were also there and would like to contradict my version of events please feel free. If not then please butt out and while you're at it recognize that "public servants" screw things up too.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Jul 14, 2011 : 12:37 a.m.

"Really interesting - 45 minutes to get there or there for 45 minutes before they started pumping.......either way, what would have been their motivation to take that much time?" Always count on the failed RepubliKan candidate for state Senate to jump on any unattributed and unsubstantiated claim of public servant failure. Good Night and Good Luck

Grand Marquis de Sade

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

YFD was on the scene within a few minutes of them being called. Excellent response time. It was approximately 45 minutes after the initial response when Pittsfield Twp showed up and started pumping.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

Interesting post from a real witness. I have not heard this before.

Chase Ingersoll

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

Really interesting - 45 minutes to get there or there for 45 minutes before they started pumping.......either way, what would have been their motivation to take that much time?


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

I hope people are not implying the arsonist was providing a public service by setting fire to this structure. Keep in mind that there was great potential for human suffering and death from this fire, because of its location in a densely populated area. Luckily, no one is injured. Due to this potential, arson normally merits a prison sentence.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

"Repairs"? The building remains a public nuisance grossly undermining what had been a vital business district. It is still a ruin surrounded by metal and wood scaffolding impinging on public right-of-way. The wood buttressing is silvered with age now and presents a fire hazard in itself. Any efforts beyond stabilizing the burned-out hulk are rather invisible.

Jimmy McNulty

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 11:41 a.m.

"He said repairs made to the building to bring it back to its former condition came at a cost of nearly $1.2 million." Really? Hmmm, if I recall, that uninsured property was already half crumbling before the fire.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

I know of people who are spending time in prison for arson, and their crimes were less heinous than Popiolek's. Must have had a "good" lawyer.