Man named person of interest in arson case says people were after him over money

MORGANTON, N.C. — Investigators say the fire that destroyed a Morganton business was intentionally set. That business owner told Channel 9′s Dave Faherty that people have been after him because he owes them money. He says a third party told him one of the groups he owes money to may have ties to the Russian mafia.

Wendell Fox owns Fox Built Construction in Morganton. He showed Faherty one of the threatening videos he claims he received after he said he borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars from people in New York and then filed for bankruptcy last summer.

“Enjoy the time you got left. Your days are numbered. Stuff like that,” Fox told Faherty.

In late January, flames swept through the building, causing more than $700,000 in damage.

Police have called Fox a person of interest in the case. According to search warrants, investigators could smell the odor of something used to start a fire in an upstairs storage room. They said the owner of the company is the only person of interest in the case.

“I didn’t do it,” Fox said. “I have gone though a bunch of turmoil right now.”

Fox says his financial troubles started more than a year ago. Court documents say when he began to run short on funds, he went online and filled out loan applications and was contacted by a broker out of New York.

After filing for bankruptcy months later, Fox claims the threats started.

But the search warrant says Fox defaulted on four $100,000 loans. Just days before the fire started, his bankruptcy was dismissed, making him responsible for all of the debt.

“I’m not nearly stupid enough to do something like that knowing it’s going to cripple me more, and that I’m going to be the prime suspect,” Fox said.

The search warrant says Fox told investigators that “he knows it looks like he started the fire.”

The police chief said this remains an active investigation. They are working closely with the State Bureau of Investigation, who were spotted back out at the scene this week.

(WATCH BELOW: Arrest made in house fire that injured 1 person, firefighters say)