A maintenance man at a south Kansas City church spray-painted racist graffiti on the front entrance and set a fire inside — all to cover up his theft of money to buy crack cocaine, according to documents filed in federal court on Monday.
Nathaniel D. Nelson was charged in U.S. District Court with committing an arson inside the adjoining cultural center at the predominantly black Concord Fortress of Hope Church, where he was also a member.
Nelson, 48, had previously served time in prison for arson and burglary and was last released in 2011.
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According to allegations in the affidavit filed in court to support the charges, Nelson admitted to stealing money from inside the church’s cultural center to buy crack cocaine. Nelson, who is black, said he had spray-painted the racist graffiti and set the fire in an attempt to throw off investigators, according to the affidavit.
Members of the church at 11050 W. Longview Parkway were greeted Sunday morning to the graffiti, which included a slur directed at black people, the letters “KKK” and what appeared to be an attempt at making a swastika.
The fire was set inside the adjoining Concord Cultural Center. Nelson allegedly said he used clothing and paper towels to set fire on a chair in an office. The building’s sprinkler system extinguished the blaze before it spread.
Nelson was captured on a video inside the building’s foyer just before he unplugged the surveillance system, according to documents. But he was unaware of a second system, which recorded video of him outside spray-painting the graffiti, according to the allegations.
He was identified on the video by Deputy Kansas City Police Chief Karl Oakman, who is a member of the church.
According to the allegations contained in the affidavit: Nelson told investigators that he smoked crack inside his office at the church before attempting to break into the finance office, which was the only room he did not have a key for.
When he was unable to break in, he rummaged through two other offices and stole about $230. He left to buy more crack, returned to the church and broke into two vending machines, but was able to get only a few dollars.
He left again to buy more crack, which he brought back to the church to smoke. He allegedly set the fire before leaving.
Nelson told investigators that he attempted to create an alibi by going to a hospital emergency room, but he left when hospital workers wanted him to take a drug test.
Nelson had been convicted of second-degree arson and financial crimes like forgery and passing a bad check, according to Jackson County court records.
On Monday, Nelson was charged with the arson in federal court because prosecutors allege that the building where the fire was set is used for interstate commerce. During a brief court appearance that afternoon, a federal magistrate judge ordered that Nelson remain in custody pending a detention hearing later in the week.
Federal prosecutors are asking that Nelson be held without bond while the case is pending.