WEST COVINA — A Hacienda Heights parolee is in custody on suspicion of lighting a massive arson fire that destroyed the sanctuary of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Hacienda Heights last year, authorities announced Wednesday.
Gregory Yusuke Shiga, 34, was scheduled to appear in West Covina Superior Court for an arraignment Wednesday following his arrest by arson investigators Monday, however the hearing was continued to May 30, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court officials and county booking records.
The fire caused more than $6.5 million worth of damage to the sanctuary and other nearby church-owned buildings at 1345 Turnbull Canyon Road in the early-morning hours of April 16. Community members and parishioners were shocked to learn investigators had ruled the fire an arson, and have since banded together to support the church’s rebuilding.
“Shiga allegedly broke into the church’s sanctuary just after midnight on April 16, 2011,” Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Additionally, authorities allege, “The defendant proximately caused multiple structures to burn and that the arson was caused by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire or delay ignition,” the statement said.
He was charged with aggravated arson, arson of a structure or forest, possession of flammable material and second-degree commercial burglary.
Investigators declined to discuss a motive Wednesday.
District attorney’s officials said Shiga did not attend the church.
No one was injured in the massive arson fire, investigators said.
Shiga was arrested Monday in Los Angeles at the conclusion of a year-long investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Arson-Explosives Detail, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
If convicted as charged, Shiga faces a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in state prison.
According to court records, the arson case is not Shiga’s first time in trouble with the law.
A man by the same name and birth date was convicted of two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery for an August, 2011 incident at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales said.
Additionally, a man of the same name and birth date was also convicted last year of a count of grand theft labor, she said.
The sanctuary was left destroyed by the fire, and other building on the church campus were badly damaged.
Community members immediately set to work fund-raising to rebuild the church, and continued services in other buildings.
Shiga’s bail was set at $1 million, Davila-Morales said.
PHOTO of Gregory Shiga courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department