A former building and grounds manager for the Massachusetts Society for the Protection of Animals was charged Thursday with setting a fire in the agency’s Boston headquarters earlier this year, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.

At his Superior Court arraignment this morning, William Fitzgerald, 52, of Plymouth, pleaded not guilty to charges of arson of a dwelling, willful and wanton destruction of property, and injuries to a firefighter resulting from criminal offenses. The charges stem from a February fire at 350 South Huntington Ave.

Acting on a recommendation by Assistant District Attorney Julie Higgins, who led the grand jury probe into the suspicious blaze, Suffolk Superior Court Clerk Magistrate Connie Wong ordered FitzGerald to have no contact with MSPCA employees and to stay away from its locations in Boston, Cape Cod, Methuen and Nantucket while the case is pending. FitzGerald has already been terminated from his position at the MSPCA.

FitzGerald, who walked into court on a summons, was released without monetary bail.

"On Feb. 19, 2010, just before midnight, the Boston Fire Department responded to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Angell Memorial Hospital" to fight a fire on the fourth floor, Higgins said. "The fire investigation revealed that the fire had been started by an open flame."

Boston Fire Department investigators, Boston Police detectives, and Suffolk prosecutors reviewed a wealth of evidence in the weeks and months that followed the fire. They scrutinized surveillance videos, examined data from the building’s swipe-card system, and conducted interviews with members of the staff.

"William FitzGerald was the only person in the area at the time the fire was started," Higgins said. Elsewhere in the building, however, were "more than 200 animals and dozens of staff members and volunteers."

The smoke, fire, and water caused about $400,000 in damages, including the destruction of irreplaceable files dating back to the 1930s. No animals or staff were injured, but one firefighter battling the conflagration sustained injuries that kept him out of work for several weeks.

The MSPCA administration has cooperated fully with the investigation since the evening of the fire, prosecutors said.

"Their main concern has been the safety and well-being of their employees, animals, volunteers, and the community they serve," Higgins said.

Wong set a tentative trial date of Feb. 7, 2011. FitzGerald will return to court with attorney Kevin Reddington on June 7 for a pre-trial conference.

About The Author

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at [email protected]. Tweet @johnguilfoil.

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