Howard Lake arson used as diversion for Cokato bank break-ins

May 5, 2008

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

Two metro-area men have been charged with arson, and a third suspect will likely be charged, in connection with a Howard Lake house fire on Sixth Avenue March 16, according to the Howard Lake Police Department.

Michael Hartsook Gotsch, 21, of Spring Lake Park and Michael Todd Rolla, 20, of Blaine have been formally charged with arson, while charges are pending on a third suspect, according to Howard Lake Police Chief Dan Lang.

The home, owned by Wayne and Kimberly Birkholz, was vacant at the time of the fire.

At approximately 1:09 a.m. March 16, authorities received a report from a pay phone at Sinclair in Howard Lake about a fire somewhere along Sixth Avenue in Howard Lake, according to a criminal complaint.

The Wright County Sheriff’s Office, the Howard Lake Police Department, and the Howard Lake Fire Department responded to the fire, along with the Wright County Arson Investigation Team.

At approximately 1:34 a.m. March 16, the Wright County Sheriff’s Office responded to an alarm at the First National Bank in Cokato. A sheriff’s deputy observed that an inner door of the bank was broken, but found no one inside.

A sheriff’s office deputy noticed two people wearing hooded black sweatshirts and carrying a large metal object in the area near the State Bank of Cokato. Upon searching that bank, deputies observed damage to the drive-up window and broken glass.

After Rolla was interviewed April 16 regarding another matter, he admitted that he and an accomplice attempted to smash the drive-through window at the State Bank of Cokato in March.

Rolla told the detective that he and Jeremy Richard Fuller, 18, of Blaine gained entry at First National Bank through a broken window, but fled when an alarm was activated while they were trying to pry open a teller drawer, according to the complaint.

Rolla and Fuller were charged, April 18 with burglary in the second degree for acts allegedly occurring March 16 at the banks.

“Through the investigation, it was discovered that the suspects set the house fire in Howard Lake to concentrate units in Howard Lake,” Lang said. “They then used that diversion to burglarize the banks in Cokato.”

Rolla was recently arrested for allegedly burglarizing a rural Howard Lake home April 15. He is also facing charges of first and second degree arson, and first degree burglary, according to the complaint.

Gotsch is facing first and second degree arson charges, first and second degree burglary, and first degree damage to property.

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