A businessman whose well-known San Diego-primarily based vegan food truck was ruined past year in a hearth — a decline he reported was component of “a surprising series of hate crimes” directed at him — was charged Tuesday with arson and insurance plan fraud in relationship with the blaze.
Avonte Hartsfield, 26, pleaded not guilty in San Diego Excellent Court docket to allegations stemming from the hearth, which gutted his Rollin Roots truck while it was parked exterior his Kearny Mesa business on Oct. 3, 2021.
Prosecutors allege Hartsfield set the fireplace “with the intent to defraud” and subsequently submitted a fraudulent insurance policies declare, according to a criminal criticism.
Hartsfield also faces a demand of grand theft. He raised extra than $102,000 from extra than 2,100 supporters as element of a GoFundMe fundraising marketing campaign. He been given a $20,000 donation from Sycuan tribal officials.
Prosecutors say he acknowledged the GoFundMe donations beneath phony pretenses.
If convicted of the charges, he faces up to 7 yrs and 4 months in jail.
For the duration of the Tuesday arraignment, San Diego Superior Court docket Judge Laura Halgren requested Hartsfield, who was out of custody, to report to a detention facility to be processed and produced.
Deputy Community Defender Doug Miller did not explore information of the scenario in the course of the brief hearing.
Outdoors the courtroom, Hartsfield said “the police failed to investigate the circumstance fully” and adequately, and that they zeroed in on him devoid of searching for other suspects. He taken care of that an individual “targeted” his small business.
“They only investigated me,” he stated. “I guess we get to expose the procedure at this place, so I’m fired up for that possibility.”
At the time, Hartsfield, who is Black and homosexual, explained the fire in the leased truck took place following various days of escalating incidents that left him feeling qualified. Somebody still left a noose hanging over his workplace doorway, he explained, and power lines to the truck were reduce a number of times in advance of the fire.
In March, Hartsfield said on his GoFundMe web site that he had learned — he did not say from whom — that the hearth was not arson but was “actually from electrical mishap.” He presented to refund money he experienced elevated.
“Whether that was caused by the vandalism to our electrical procedure or not, I definitely want to be clear as I located that info out I wished to straight away make it offered,” he wrote in the March 26 post. “Knowing the fireplace was not resolved as arson could influence your donation and I wished to give absolutely everyone an option to request a refund.”
Hartsfield mentioned Tuesday that GoFundMe managed refunds for donors, but he did not know how quite a few.
A GoFundMe spokesperson explained the firm does not share refund info for privacy good reasons.
Hartsfield acknowledged he filed an insurance coverage assert following the hearth and additional that the insurance money assisted him receive a further foods truck.
He to begin with released his organization as a pop-up foodstuff vendor who marketed at farmers’ marketplaces in 2019. He pivoted to running a food truck immediately after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions shut down out of doors marketplaces in 2020. By late 2020, he took to GoFundMe to appeal for aid, stating he was “struggling to make ends meet.” He lifted extra than $18,500.
The dollars infusion aided, and small business picked up. In 2021, he gained a $25,000 grant from a non-financial gain partnership amongst celeb chef Guy Fieri and the California Cafe Foundation, and recognized a further $5,000 donation from a supporter.
In addition to serving consumers, he routinely presented meals to homeless persons from the truck.
At the time the hearth happened, Hartsfield was chatting about opening a vegan pizzeria downtown exactly where he could also assist other people hoping to begin companies.
Just after the effective fundraising effort, Hartsfield received a different food truck. He posted on Instagram and Fb that he was reopening the truck at a vegan sector function in Miramar on March 13.
In early October, he posted on Instagram he was placing the foodstuff truck “on pause” even though he continued serving food items out of the Serpentine Cider Brewery and Lost Bring about Meadery in Miramar. A couple of weeks afterwards, he declared he was leaving San Diego for Los Angeles — and invited buddies and supporters to say goodbye at the Miramar spot.