updated 4/28/2005 5:51:08 PM ET 2005-04-28T21:51:08

One of five men charged in an arson spree at a suburban Washington housing development pleaded guilty Thursday to taking part in what prosecutors said was a crime aimed at black families moving into the neighborhood.

Jeremy D. Parady, 20, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit arson. Prosecutors planned to ask for nearly 10 years in prison and restitution of $4.18 million. Sentencing was set for June 14.

Parady “selected or aided and abetted the selection of the Hunters Brooke development as the object of the arson because he knew or perceived that many of the purchasers of the houses in that development were African-American,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger said.

All five men arrested in the fires are white.

Prosecutors believe the men drove to the development Dec. 6, poured chemicals at 35 homes that were under construction and torched them. At least 10 houses were destroyed. The fires did an estimated $10 million in damage. No one was hurt.

All five men were charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson and aiding and abetting; none was charged with committing a hate crime.

Prosecutor: Wheelman brought flares
Parady drove one of the cars the arsonists used to travel from house to house as they lit the blazes, Sanger said. He also supplied some of the flares used to start the fires, taking them from a volunteer fire company in Accokeek where he was a firefighter, she said.

Parady also recruited or attempted to recruit other people to take part in the conspiracy, Sanger said.

In addition to racism, other possible motives offered by prosecutors included a a desire by alleged ringleader Patrick Walsh to gain fame for a loosely organized group called “the family.”

There was early speculation that the fires were set because environmentalists believed the houses were a threat to a nearby bog. But authorities later said no evidence was found to support that theory.

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